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Plasma balls- Dangerous at all?

  1. Oct 18, 2005 #1


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    I've recently found my old plasma ball, so decided to waste a couple of hours becoming entranced with it. I noticed that if I touched it with anything other than my hand, the streams didn't seem to be attracted to it. I did a bit of reading on it and found that it has to be something which will conduct electricity quite well, so I try a few things to no avail, and decide it's tinfoil time. This works quite well, but then I discover that if I balance it on top of the ball and hold my finger near it, I can make some tiny sparks from the foil to my finger. This amuses me for a little while, until I start to smell a rather strong burning smell coming from my finger. I'm a little reluctant to continue now. Is there any danger in doing this, or is it pretty safe?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 18, 2005 #2
    Was your finger burning? If it was, you might not do that anymore. If it wasn't, keep going.
  4. Oct 18, 2005 #3


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    Not in the "on fire" sense, but it smells like it has been. There was no pain by the way. A slight tingle, but that is all.
  5. Oct 18, 2005 #4


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    You might just be smelling ozone from the ionization discharge that you saw between the foil and your finger. Try holding a sharp metal object with your hand and arcing the tip of the metal edge to the foil. If you smell the same smell, it's ozone (or some other byproduct of the ionization discharge -- I don't know offhand if ozone is odorless).
  6. Oct 19, 2005 #5


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    An easier way is to put a CD you don't want, or an unburned one into your microwave oven for ~2 seconds. Open the door and smell what's in there. That is the smell of ozone, O3
    Here's also an mpeg from the site: http://powerlabs.org/movies/burnglass.mpg You can see the stream of plasma make its way out of the globe and to the metal rod! Which a person is holding!
  7. Oct 19, 2005 #6


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    I tried using foil and another metal object. Lots of sparks, but no smell this time, so I reckon it must have been me I smelled. I guess that's a sign to stop.

    That video is pretty cool. I wonder if it's the same as I'm doing but with higher voltages. I don't think mine can melt through the glass though (or at least I hope not)
  8. Oct 19, 2005 #7
    electrical burns can damage muscle below the skin without harming the skin. Like the old saying goes, it's not the injury that kills ya, its the infection.
  9. Oct 19, 2005 #8
    I have one of these plasma balls and this small discharges simply seems to burn part of our skin, producing the smell you have mentioned. No harm seems to be involved as long as you do it few times a week, just to present the effect to others. Carbon compounds, organic compounds, when burned, may originate cancer inducing substances. This is the principal reason to avoid doing this experiment frequently.

    Try rotating gently the plasma ball and you will find out that there is really a gas inside, for its viscosity makes the streams rotate also.

    I wonder if experiments with isopor balls may result in situations where they stay floating near de ball due to electrization process.

    Best Regards,

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