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Strange art work. Please explain how it works.

Barry Wolk

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We have a glass/plasma sculpture by Mundy Hepburn. It's a neon filled blown glass piece that is unlike any neon I've ever worked with. Typically, noble gasses are excited by electrodes at both ends of a gas filled tube. Pinched into the molten glass end is a piece of wire that acts as an electrode. As high voltage is applied the molecules in the gas gets all jumpy and produces light as a byproduct. It's the same way that fluorescent lights work. I'm sure you've all seen the experiment of illuminating long fluorescent tubes near high-tension power lines. They are reacting to the magnetic field of energy surround the wires.

This is different. It has a wire that passes through the pinched tip of the piece, forming a small loop on the end. The wire protruding from the top is wrapped around a lead wire coming from a ballast or transformer of sorts. It could even be a transmitter, but it doesn't seem to bother the other electronics in the house.

When activated a pencil-thin arc of plasma extends from the tip of the wire loop and darts to about 3/4 of the way to the bottom of the piece where it fans out as if vaporized. If you touch the bottom of the piece the slow-moving lightning-like arc will strike bottom and quickly warm your fingers. You can affect the arc by putting your hand close to, or touching the glass. It moves toward you as you move towards it.

I can almost understand what is happening there but it does something else that I can not explain. Small (1/8") balls of energy are emitted from the antenna. They ride the inner surface of the glass in wavering rows that seem to undulate. There are about 30 of these rows with orange balls spaced about 1" apart. They move from the top to the bottom at about 4 feet per second which kind of makes for a strobe-like effect. Not one of the hundreds of people that have seen this has been able to explain what would form energy balls that would race down the inside of the glass in perfect rows keeping equal distance from the adjacent row, only to converge and disappear at the bottom.

The top spines, for lack of another word, have no physical connection to the antenna wire or the large shape below. In fact, they are isolated from it by a piece of plexiglas. They apparently light due to the sphere of energy that the antenna puts out, but it doesn't interfere with anything else in the house.

This piece is in our room with the hot tub. We couldn't figure out why our animals wouldn't go in this room. I think they investigated the piece with their nose and got a rather unpleasant surprise.

What bit of physics would allow for traveling orange energy balls? There's a lot of bright people here. Little help?


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In the words of "Harry" on the TV show <span style="font-weight: bold"><span style="font-style: italic">Third Rock From the Sun</span></span>, "What do you suppose it wants?" cool.gif

(This line was used when he, "Sally" and "Tommy" first encounter a Jello mold and see it wiggling. They thought it had to be another alien.)

I have no idea what makes that sculpture do what it does, but it sure is <span style="font-weight: bold">cool</span>. Some of what it does sounds like the lightening in a globe lights that have been out for several years.

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I think the answer lies in the inert gas being used. Mundy's website does state he's "blended" various gases together, so I suspect its like a semi-condonductor condition. Pehaps temperature or diversion/dissipation of the field from the wire antenna conductor plays a role in it.

Where did you acquire it?? Mundy's website is rather silent on their availability.


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Perhaps the glass has a conductive coating or is itself a slight conductor. If so, the non-plasma energy balls (little ball lightning?) may be dissipating through the glass as they travel away from the energy source. These balls would be the same charge and therefore would be expected to equally space themselves apart.

I agree that the distribution of the plasma colors would indicate different gases that produce light at different wavelengths.

Placing your hand on the glass would also attract the energy to seek a ground.

Cool conversation piece!

My 2 cents....

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Habitat Gallery used to market his works. I believe you can acquire one directly from Mundy.

The first time I asked him he was mum on the technical aspect. Yesterday I e-mailed him and got this response.

My e-mail:

Can you give me a nutshell version of how this works? I believe you said it's high frequency radio waves that drives it, correct? What bit of physics would allow this sculpture to form little orange balls of energy and make them line up in 30 or so rows and speed for the bottom of the sculpture? Are these affected by how high they are above the ground?

Inquiring minds want to know.


His response:

They work on Tesla currents, 25,000 cycles per second, or 25 kHz, at only a few millamps of current. It`s a high voltage power supply for a TV set driving a special fluorescent lamp. In the lamp I use a mixture of rare gases at higher pressure than in normal lights, still lower than atmospheric pressure, maybe one third of an atmosphere. The magic rows of marching Dots are God`s work. I only discovered and patented the mixture. Inquiring minds node to knee.

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Notice Mundy's response about pressure: 1/3 atmosphere, very low. I suspect that if higher pressure's are used, the molucules are tighter resulting in a smaller wavelength, hence a change in color. The marching Dots are probably the residual of some of the gases not mixing together perfectly. Also the frequency of the Tesla coils at 25 KHz may be a factor. He's probably tried various mixes and pressures ala the Edison method: 1 percent inspritation, 99 percent perspiration!

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Explain this one.

I'll give you a hint. It's a round light box recessed into a wall. The light box is about 6" deep and contains a round 48" fluorescent lamp at the very back of it. In the center of the back of the box is a motor that turns at about 4 rpm. Attached to that shaft is a disc of light bending material that's slightly smaller than the light box.

The "art" is attached to a 1/4" piece of plexiglass, making the same size "art" interchangeable.

Do you know what you are seeing?

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