This news release describes past events and should be used for historical purposes only. Please note date of release.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield Hall 218
Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004
UW-Eau Claire Student
Creates Lightning Machine
phone (715) 836-4741
fax (715) 836-2900

MAILED: June 24, 1998

EAU CLAIRE — Patrick Gustafson demonstrated what can happen when the right tools, intelligence and creativity are combined with information on the Internet.
While attending the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire last year, Gustafson decided to build a Tesla coil, a machine that uses electricity to create lightning-like sparks in the air.
Tesla coils have been built before but two things make this one special — he came up with the idea and built it almost entirely by himself, and he got most of the information he needed from the Internet.
"We really didn't believe it was going to work, to be honest," said physics professor Kim Pierson, who supplied Gustafson with various used parts for the project.
Pierson described Gustafson as "MacGyver-like," able to create almost anything by using simple tools, intelligence and creativity.
The coil basically mimics lightning, Pierson said. The machine takes the electricity drawn from the wall socket and amplifies the voltage through the use of specifically designed coils. A sharp point at the top of the machine provides a focal point for the lightning-like sparks to jump about 4 feet to a grounded rod that acts just like a lightning rod on the top of a building. The resulting final output is roughly 3 million volts of electricity, he said.
Although Gustafson transferred to UW-Madison, his work will continue to be used at UW-Eau Claire each semester in science class demonstrations.
"It gives us a demonstration of an exciting real physical phenomenon," Pierson said. "Patrick gave us an instrument we couldn't get any other way."
Because it was a student who built the project, it will be more meaningful to other students, Pierson said.
"If you get students involved in building/creating something on their own, that's what it's really all about," Pierson said.


UWEC [Administrative Offices] [News Bureau]

Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 218
(715) 836-4741

Updated: June 29, 1998