Wimshurst and Van de Graaff Shocking Students at the University of Arizona

Benjamin Franklin's Rubbing Tube Reaction

Benjamin Franklin’s reaction upon receiving a similar early electrostatic generator:
“the wonderful effect of pointed bodies, both in drawing off and throwing off the electrical fire.”
Courtesy of Chuck Weidman, University of Arizona.

Our friend and University of Arizona Atmospheric Sciences instructor Chuck Weidman  uses our Classic Wimshurst Machine and Classic Van de Graaff Generator in his classroom to help teach the course “Atmospheric Electricity”!

As a company focused on customer satisfaction, we do follow up with customers to ensure that they are happy and most of all, enjoying our products. I was very lucky to have spoken with Chuck last week, as I thoroughly enjoy speaking about electrostatic machines, various experiments and the subject in general, as does he.

During our half hour conversation, some very dear compliments were paid to both machines used in a lecture entitled “Historical Developments in Atmospheric Electricity“. The lecture starts off by explaining how people began to start trying to understand exactly what electricity is starting in the middle 1700s. Of course, the first electric generators were friction machines, similar to a Van de Graaff in principle and later on influence machines as is the Wimshurst.

Wimshurst machines in the classroom.

Wimshurst machine as used by Chuck Weidman of the University of Arizona to aid in lectures.

He noted that “your Wimshurst machine is not only a beautiful piece of art, but generates some very large sparks” and “the Van de Graaff generator I bought performs far better than the institutional versions that sell for many hundreds of dollars”.

Active Statics Van de Graaff used by Lecturer at the University of Arizona.

Active Statics Classic Van de Graaff Generators as used by Chuck Weidman to aid in his lectures in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona.

After receiving such kind and sincere compliments, not only did i experience the feelings of accomplishment and flattery, I felt as though lightning bolts were shooting from my fingers! I’m also glad to hear that many of his students found the demonstrations fascinating, hopefully sparking interest in the somewhat obscure subject of electrostatics.

After all, clouds moving over the Earth accumulating electrostatic charges and discharging them to ground in the form of lightning produce far more energy than the largest Van de Graaffs. Without hyperbole, moving clouds were the first and still the most powerful electrostatic generators on the planet.

I’ve embedded Chuck’s lecture notes for “Historical Developments in Atmospheric Electricity”. He also mentions the working principles of electrostatic motors, Leyden Jars, Franklin’s bells and Volta’s Hailstorm. Definitely worth reading.

Thanks again Chuck!

– Jon

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