Physics Van 3-site Navigational Menu

Physics Van Navigational Menu

Q & A: Plasma Balls and Tesla Coils

Learn more physics!

Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
Is there a Tesla Coil in the plasma ball?
- Nancy Bagley
Norfolk, Va
A:
Hi Nancy, excellent question. Let's take a look at the two items in question.

Plasma Ball:

Plasma Ball

Tesla Coil:

Tesla Coil

The answer is yes! The plasma ball and tesla coil work the same way. They're both special kinds of transformers (machines that take in electricity and make the voltage either higher or lower). In this case, we want to make the voltage higher. In both devices, the transformer moves charges to a ball at the center (called the electrode). The charges build up there, so they want to spread out. This makes them leap off the center and fly away in all directions. When charges move through a gas, they give the gas molecules energy. The molecules get rid of this extra energy by giving off light, which is the "lightning" you see when looking at a plasma ball or tesla coil. So what's the difference between these two devices? Plasma balls are just little versions of tesla coils. A plasma ball has gas inside that's really easy to light up, but it doesn't have enough energy to light up the gas outside the ball (the air). Tesla coils have plenty of power to spare, so they can even make regular air light up, just like lightning in a storm! Greg

(published on 10/22/2007)

Follow-up on this answer.