We’re going to demonstrate some cool plasma ball tricks that you can do with a plasma lamp in your house. Now if you don’t know what these electric balls do then you need to keep on reading as we’re going to show all the science experiments below.
Plasma Ball experiments and science projects that you can do on your own time at home.
We have listed the experiments from easiest to most difficult. Please be careful when using these plasma tricks, always ask an adult if you are unsure about any of them.
The 4 Main Tricks:
1. Touching Lightning
2. Demonstrating the convection
3. Studying the oscillating electric field
4. Fluorescent Tubes
The plasma globe is an engaging and safe tool for studying high-frequency voltages in an electric current. Inside the ball, an extremely strong current is being generated by a circuit which transforms the electricity in a similar manner as the Tesla Coil. This creates a cylindrical electric field between the electrode in the center and the inner glass. Most physical science classes require that their students have at least a basic understanding of this impressive glowing matter known as plasma, but even if you don’t take physical science, you can have a lot of fun and learn something new by trying some of these fun plasma ball tricks on your own with your one!
If you’re new to plasma ball tricks, the first thing you may wonder is why the electric lamp responds to your fingers, this is due to the polarization of your body which is an above average conductor for electricity. As you get closer to the electric field generated by the plasma lamp, you become polarized and this attracts more of those free charges moving around, towards your body.
The plasma globe tricks which we are going to do will teach you that plasma can usually be controlled by magnetic fields, but this will not be visible in the ball because of the relatively small distance that the plasma travels between the high voltage current and the exterior of the glass, so it does not get visibly deflected.
If you wanted to see an example of plasma moving a far distance, take a look outside during a thunder storm and watch the lightning strike the earth! Some still believe that if we could build a big enough magnetic field generator, we could point the lightning in whichever direction we wanted and smite down our enemies, but these theories have never properly been tested…yet. So let’s get on with our first Plasma lamp demonstration.
1. Touching Lightning
Our first plasma trick shows that the extremely high voltage current coming from the plasma ball will have no trouble polarizing a piece of aluminum foil or even a coin placed on top of it. If you’ve never touched lightning or you have and just want to see something really cool, you can place a coin on top of the electric ball and then slowly bring your fingers down until you are only a few millimeters away from the coin.
Once you are close enough, you will be able to elicit an electrical arc off the top of the coin into your finger. The spark you see may look intimidating but don’t be scared to try, it will not hurt or cause any pain, but if you hold it there for long enough it will start to get hot so you might want to only keep it there for a few seconds at first. Read about the dangers of plasma for more information on this. (You can also use a metal key or any conductor to touch the coin and the spark will form between the plasma lamp and the coin painlessly).
You can do a fun trick with this plasma ball by taking a coin and placing it directly above the lamp, then grab a piece of paper and a paperclip. What you’re going to do now is place the piece of paper directly on top of the coin and then use the tip of the paper clip to touch the paper.
What you will see is that the electric arc from the plasma lamp trick will actually burn directly through the paper leaving a tiny little hole! (Repeat the process and using the electric arc, try to draw something cool on the paper to show to your science teacher). If you want to look really smart in front of your friends, you can use this electric spark trick and use the lightning ball to explain how lightning is created when the static electric field within the clouds ionizes the air around it.
2. Demonstrating convection of the plasma lamps
The plasma lamp tricks that you see can become quite hot and due to their buoyancy, the plasma will rise above the other gases inside of the globe. For this reason, if you touch the side of the plasma ball it’s usually very difficult to get a horizontal thread to remain unbroken for more than a second – similar to Jacob’s Ladder (which is also known as the stairway between heaven and earth).
You can read more information about them here You will notice though that if you put your finger or entire hand at the top of the globe, a vertical stream will become extremely stabilized by the buoyancy. It’s going to seem as if the plasma is now much happier than it was before. If you keep experimenting, eventually you will be able to get one all the threads to form into one single strand going into the base of your hand. Be cautious still, even though it is entirely safe, the glass will heat up if you keep your hand there for too long.
3. Studying the oscillating electric field
Our next plasma ball trick is very interesting. It might not be visible to you, but there is actually a high-powered electric field surrounding the plasma lamp. This happens when the electric charges created by the Tesla coil in the center of the electric ball reach beyond the glass dome and into the air surrounding it. We can easily prove that this electric field exists by using a small neon bulb or a light emitting diode (LED). Just bring either of these lights near the lamp and they are going to light up, demonstrating the power of the invisible forces that we can’t see or touch.
When you hold up the light you must keep it aligned radially for it to work. This is because voltages will diminish the further that you are radially from the field, you could also say that the electric field itself has a radial structure. You should also notice that there is no apparent directional dependence of the diode and this is because the lightning ball field around it is oscillating very rapidly. The circuit inside the plasma globe is providing a high-frequency alternating current which is necessary to increase the voltage to the correct amount needed in order for the gas inside to ionize.
If you happen to own an oscilloscope, you can further study the globes voltage by simply connecting a probe to one of the channels and then move the probe back and forth to see a visual interpretation of the electric field at a different range of distances.
An oscilloscope is an instrument used for electronic testing which enables you to see how often the electrical signal voltages are varying, it usually shows this information by plotting the data two-dimensionally on a chart. Which is why they are so helpful for Plasma Ball Tricks. There are also other signals, for example, high vibration or audio frequencies which can be converted and displayed in a graph format as seen on the left.
If for some reason you don’t happen to have access to an oscilloscope, don’t worry about it! Thanks to the magic of science there are always other alternatives, if you have an amplifier (Or any old computer speakers) you can use an auxiliary cable as your conductor probe and listen to how the frequencies change with distance. (The closer you are, the louder the sound frequencies will get). The human body can also serve as an excellent antenna for picking up the signal from the plasma globe so be sure to touch the tip of the cable with your finger or even your tongue while holding it as well!
4. Fluorescent Tubes
This next experiment requires that you get a long fluorescent tube, which you might find in your overhead lights, you can also get one at any hardware store or pet store, there’s also a link to Amazon’s best selection of fluorescent light bulbs on the left. Once you have obtained the tube, bring it near the plasma ball and observe the effects.
You will notice that once a part of the mercury gas in the tube starts to ionize, it will light up and stay glowing even as you move it away, try to see how far it will go! If you are demonstrating this experiment to a class, emphasize that the fluorescent tube light holds ionized mercury gas (plasma) and that the ionized gas inside the tube is a conductor, just like the plasma inside the glass ball.
For this reason, the tube’s light can be drawn from a distance with no apparent increase in resistance (no decrease in brightness). Amazing right. There are invisible forces all around us which we can tap in to. Also, note that the starting point of the tube must be where the electric field is largest. This can be demonstrated by moving the tube closer then further radially to the globe. At certain distances, the tube will not light up because there is a minimum electric field required to ionize the mercury gas and if the current is not strong enough the tube will not light up.
The low pressure, ionized mercury gas releases mostly UV and violet light when it is exposed to electrons. This light falls on the fluorescent paint that coats the inside of the tube. The paint then glows white. The UV light is blocked by glass, so harmful UV light does not escape the glass tubes. Thus, the process does not work in reverse: if you shine UV light on the tube from the outside the paint won’t start glowing.
While you have the fluorescent tube out, let’s do another experiment! We can demonstrate that the electric current can be diverted into a shorter circuit if one is available. If a lab-partner grabs part of the tube or you holds the tube in the middle rather than at the edge you will see that after the point where your hand is touching, the light will stop illuminating from the tube. Electricity will always take the path of least resistance.
These ball’s of electricity are a great educational toy and just plain interesting to play with. I’m sad to see that they have slowly lost their popularity but I hope that we will see them being used more frequently in the future to educate kids about electricity and science. I’m glad that I got to grow up with one of these fun plasma globes in my house as they developed my infinite curiosity for technology.
I have a great passion for discovering new things, it’s the magic in these plasma lamps that makes kids excited to learn more about the world of science and for a young, enthusiastic child there is really no better way to delve into that world than with a plasma globe!
If you still need more information for your project you can go read about how a plasma ball works that has some pretty cool information as well. Thanks for coming to our website to learn about Plasma ball tricks!