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Tesla’s Million Volt Revenge [W/Video]

Posted on December3,2012 by Arbor Scientific, authored by Buzz Putnam There have been 11 comment(s)

On October 8th, 2012, magician David Blaine performed a seemingly life-threatening stunt subjecting himself to a whopping one million volts of electricity while wearing a 20-pound chain metal suit.

The public was shocked by the performance, a demonstration that seems to defy the basic laws of science. However, an understanding of the laws of electricity will show that Blaine was not working against these basic principles, but was using them in order to perform his trick successfully!

In the video of Blaine’s performance shown above, the magician is wearing a Faraday Cage – a type of suit made of a conductive material invented in 1836 by English scientist, Michael Faraday. The suit functions as a shield that blocks external static and non-static electric fields which causes the electric charges within the Cage’s conductive material to redistribute themselves and thus cancel the field’s effects in the cage interior. This same phenomenon explains why one is safe from lightning storms and other external electric fields while driving a car (not the rubber tires, despite what Grandma may have told you!)

So while Blaine’s performance looks pretty dangerous, his Faraday Cage (which, theoretically, has no voltage limit) prevents the electric current from reaching his body, making it not quite the superhuman feat it appears. Nevertheless, showing this video to your physics classes will have even the bravest students on the edge of their seats – until you explain the principles behind it!
David Blaine will be spending 72 hours on top of a pillar in the midst of 7 Tesla coils shooting electricity at him

Other common uses for a Faraday cage include:

  • Your microwave oven & its door preventing the Radio Frequencies/Energy within the oven from leaking out.
  • Elevators simulate a Faraday cage effect, leading to a loss of signal and "dead zones" for users of cellular phones & radios which require electromagnetic external signals.
  • The shielding inside of coaxial television cable wire & USB cables protect the internal conductors from external electrical noise and prevents the RF signals from leaking out.
  • Plastic bags impregnated with metal are included with highway electronic toll collection devices which are to allow motorists to place them in the bag so that a toll charge is not registered or a device will not register a charge while being shipped to a customer's home after ordering in a delivery truck.
  • Even MRI machine scan rooms are designed as Faraday cages to prevent external radio frequency signals from being added to data collected from the patient, which would affect the resulting image.
  • Shopping bags lined with aluminum foil have even been found by police in arresting shoplifters who steal RF-tagged items; the bags acting as Faraday cages.

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This post was posted in CoolStuff Newsletters, Electricity, Electrostatics

11 Responses to Tesla’s Million Volt Revenge [W/Video]

  • In the caption for the piture included with this article, it states, "the public was shocked by the performance, a demonstration that seems to define the basic laws of science." I think the word you should have used here in place of define is "defy". Please comment. I am available for scientific review and editing of publications. CV/resume' available on request.

    Posted on December4,2012 at 12:40pm

  • I think you mean, "a demonstration that seems to defie the basic laws of science."

    Posted on December4,2012 at 2:09pm

  • Yikes! Mistakes... we hate those. Thanks for looking out, we fixed it.

    Posted on December4,2012 at 4:04pm

  • It looks like his hands are not protected, but that would hurt him. Is he wearing conductive gauntlets that I just don't see in the video? Just in the interest of "don't try this at home" it should be explained what is required.

    Posted on December4,2012 at 6:04pm

  • Would the Faraday suit be able to take a lightning bolt hit?
    How would it work in the eletric chair?

    Posted on December5,2012 at 10:11am

  • His hands are completely covered. You will have to ask David what all is required.

    Posted on December12,2012 at 11:33am

  • I was in NYC the weekend David Blaine was doing this stunt, and part of it which may also impress students, was that he stood up on that tower for three days straight, 24 hrs/day.

    Posted on December17,2012 at 12:05pm

  • Switon says:

    The physics of the Faraday cage fully protects David from the electric discharges, but I'd have to ask about the chemistry of the experiment. Usually electric discharges through air produces not only ultraviolet radiation but also ozone from the oxygen in the air. Is ozone not being produced by these discharges? If ozone is being produced, then what is protecting David for his 72 hours of breathing ozone? As ozone is a very strong oxidizing agent, I would think that if he is breathing ozone for 72 hours this would cause damage to his lungs. So, is he protected somehow from the UV radiation and from the ozone, or are these somehow not being generated by the discharges in this experiment?

    Posted on December17,2012 at 1:06pm

  • By wearing a Faraday cage-type suit, the danger to him is extremely small, especially when many electrical linemen routinely working on Kazakhstan's 1.15 million volt Ekibastuz-Kokshetau electrical line wear such a suit with regularity. Their suits prevent electrical current from flowing through their bodies and the suits have theoretically no voltage limit. It seems that Blaine has had excellent advice from his handlers who apparently have had some basic Physics!

    Posted on December19,2012 at 4:44am

  • The room was ventilated of harmful ozone and nitrogen dioxide created by electricity ionized air.

    Posted on December19,2012 at 4:50am

  • What is the purpose of the metal ball in his hand that he transfers back and forth?

    Posted on December27,2012 at 9:52pm