S+ Stimulant: Lichtenberg Figures


Named after their discoverer, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Lichtenberg figures are fractal-like patterns formed from an electrical discharge on or inside of an insulator.  Sometimes known as electron trees or lightning flowers, this beautiful phenomenon is the capturing of lightning-like discharge in solid, physical form.


3D Lichtenberg Figure

3D Lichtenberg Figure

People have been creating Lichtenberg figures for over 200 years by using high-voltage electro-static devices to electrically charge the surfaces of various materials including resin, glass, and ebonite. The process takes less than 100 billionth of a second, and can be used to create stunning sculptures in both 2D and 3D.



The phenomenon can also occur in victims of lightning strikes. Survivors of lightning strikes are occasionally left with beautiful, yet temporary, scars. These scars are thought to be caused by the rupture of capillaries under the skin due to the passage of the lightning current or the shock wave from the lightning discharge as it flashes over the skin.

Lichtenberg figures demonstrate the sheer beauty and raw power of nature, and the ingenuity of mankind in being able to capture it. Artistic scientists (or scientific artists!) have been using Lichtenberg figures to create beautiful sculptures for many years now, and, owing to the infinite beauty of nature, no two Lichtenberg figures are alike.



Seymour suggested reading:

The Lichtenberg Figures by Ben Lerner  (Hayden Carruth Award for New and Emerging Poets)


Published: September 24th, 2013

Previous in this series:

S+ Stimulant: Murray Gell-Mann

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