Nov 7, 2012
Photo: Boston MOS' Daniel Davis and Greg Leyh
Last night, Greg arrived from San Francisco and we had a meeting at the Museum of Science with Jennifer Garrett to plan tonight's events. Daniel Davis and Greg Leyh had a lot to talk about. Here they are chatting inside one of the spheres at the top of the MOS' Van de Graaff generator - I have to say that Greg was impressed with the Theater of Electricity and we're all set to have a BLAST tonight!
A FEW TICKETS LEFT: http://bitly.com/PxYRvr
Nov 6, 2012
Alberta Chu: So let’s catch up - what have you been up to since Electrum (completed in 1998)?
Greg Leyh: Electrum offered a unique opportunity to test the engineering and scaling laws needed for designing very large coils -- ones large enough to replicate some of the more esoteric features of natural lightning. The construction and testing of Electrum provided invaluable experience towards developing the Lightning Foundry design. Measurements of Electrum’s output waveforms showed how critical the control of phasing and initial polarity is towards enhancing arc formation and growth.
The Advanced Lightning Facility was the original concept with two towers. A couple of years ago we evolved the Advanced Lightning Facility into the Lightning Foundry project, based on discussions with researchers and new theories addressing relativistic avalanche phenomena in natural lightning. Although the Lightning Foundry is more closely tailored for pursuing relativistic phenomena, it’s also been optimized to be built from ‘obtainium’ (parts that can be obtained rather than bought) so that we can begin construction without waiting for flaky funding sources that might not ever materialize. Average power for the Lightning Foundry design is lower than the original ALF, but the peak power and output voltage should be slightly higher. With luck, the Lightning Foundry should just be able to reach the regime where relativistic effects begin, providing a first close look into the secret gain mechanisms of lightning. Gamma-ray bursts will be the first relativistic calling card we’ll be watching for. Lightning Foundry will run on 4 megawatts, the equivalent of 2 million iphone5’s
AC: What is your most gratifying high-voltage project to date?
GL: Without a doubt the development work towards the Lightning Foundry facility has been the most satisfying. Since the project isn’t funded, we’ve avoided a tremendous amount of political, regulatory and PR overhead, allowing us to focus purely on the key physics and technical issues. This has allowed us to advance the design effort at a wonderfully fast and efficient pace.
Pictured: Typical large scale data center (non-Google)
AC: What else are you up to these days?
GL: Recently I started a new job at Google, working on data center power distribution. Data centers are huge, warehouse-sized computers that convert 100’s of megawatts into kitten videos. Many data centers process more grid power than the SLAC 2-mile linear accelerator where I used to work. A new datacenter will often reclaim abandoned aluminum smelters or factories, or any location with a strong power grid connection and a good water source. Demand for cloud computing and social networking is growing rapidly, so there’s tremendous research directed towards gaining every last bit of efficiency out of a data center and focusing even more power into them. In many ways the job is similar to power conversion work back at the SLAC accelerator, except that instead of producing a megawatt beam of relativistic particles, the output stream is megawatts of… internet.
AC: What do you consider your greatest technical achievement?
GL: Hopefully that’s yet to come!
Boston's Museum of Science welcomes High-voltage engineer Greg Leyh in-person on November 7th, 2012 @ 6:45 pm to present the world premiere of filmmaker Alberta Chu’s documentary “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm.” Greg will give a presentation about the proposed Lightning Foundry project, followed by a reception in the Theater of Electricity. Buy your tickets in advance: http://www.mos.org/events_activities/events&d=5620
Nov 5, 2012
Alberta Chu: How is it safe to be inside the Electrum’s sphere while measuring streamers?
Greg Leyh: Electrum was also the first coil designed to operate at power levels higher than 100,000 watts. This required developing a unique 4-armature rotary gap design, 3-phase-to-DC power conversion, and a finite-element high voltage electrode design large enough for a person to climb inside.
After we got the Electrum working, we had to operate it a maximum capacity for a required number of hours in order to test it. These turned into big events in San Francisco. We even got the chance to stage some performance art of our own. Oddly enough, the space inside Electrum’s high voltage electrode is one of the safest places to be while the coil is operating. The person inside the electrode is protected by Faraday’s Law, which states that the electric field inside a conductor is zero. Ironically, the audience standing around the coil is exposed to much higher electric fields as they marvel at the brave soul inside the electrode. A couple of months after this photo was taken, we shipped the Electrum off to New Zealand.
AC: We’re all dying to know - how does one build the world’s largest tesla coil? Tell us about the unique ‘firsts’ for the Electrum sculpture.
Greg Leyh: The Electrum sculpture lives outdoors and needs to withstand exposure to a harsh seaside climate for decades. This is definitely a first for Tesla Coil design. To guard against the harsh environment the entire coil form was literally built ‘inside-out’ -- The secondary coil is molded to the inside wall of the cylindrical fiberglass tower, and the primary drive coil resides *inside* the secondary coil. Although there was no precedent for this approach, calcs and simulations supported the idea, and ultimately the test of time proved it out.
The Electrum consumes the power of 50 homes when it’s being operated.
AC: You visited the Farm to do a tune-up on the Electrum a couple of years ago - how did you find things there?
GL: In 2009, about 10 years after the initial installation, I was asked to visit the Farm and diagnose an apparent internal arcing issue with Electrum. Fearing the worst, I brought a full complement of diagnostic gear, and scheduled 10 days to work on the problem. As it turned out, the salty environment had managed to corrode an open hole through a 3/8” steel plate at the top of the tower, allowing saltwater, cobwebs and bird guano to freely enter and completely coat the high voltage windings inside the tower. Fortunately there was no permanent damage, and I only had to spend a couple of days hanging from a rope inside the tower, cleaning the winding surfaces. Once cleaned and the steel plate replaced, the coil ran just like I remembered. Aside from Electrum, the Farm itself changed dramatically between 1998 and 2009. So many new and incredible sculptures. I walked around the extents of the Farm for days. It’s a fantastic, very meditative place.
TO BE CONTINUED
San Francisco High-Voltage Engineer Greg Leyh, the builder of the world’s biggest tesla coil, will be appearing in-person at the Boston Museum of Science on November 7th, 2012 @ 6:45 pm to present the world premiere of filmmaker Alberta Chu’s documentary “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm.” Greg will give a presentation about the proposed Lightning Foundry project, followed by a reception in the Theater of Electricity. Buy your tickets in advance: http://www.mos.org/events_activities/events&d=5620
Nov 2, 2012
Alberta Chu: What are some of the other fun things that you built in collaboration with Survival Research Labs?
GL: The Lorentz Gun was originally inspired by a high voltage mishap, where a high-energy capacitor bank fired into a set of electrodes with a thin wire filament accidentally draped across them. Even though the wire was hair-thin it easily conducted thousands of amperes, completely discharging the bank. After discovering how the Lorentz force allowed this misdeed to occur, we decided to attempt a directed energy weapon in honor of this principle.
The Lorentz Gun can direct a 25,000 Ampere plasma channel through the air, at grounded targets up to 35 ft downrange. The gun consists of 30 high pressure pneumatic dart stations, each capable of launching a tapered aluminum sabot that trails a thin 'seed wire' 0.008 inches in diameter. Cannon tilt and pan is pneumatic, and a sighting laser is located inside the cannon head.
When a launched sabot contacts the target, the Marx-configured capacitor bank automatically fires and erects the bank to 110,000 volts, igniting a plasma channel along the vaporized seed wire. The plasma channel quickly intensifies, magnetically confined in the air by the Lorentz forces of its own current. Damage to the target can vary widely. Most spectators experience some degree of sinus discomfort after several firings, due to the high brissance of the plasma explosion. The capacitor bank is currently disassembled, and newer capacitors are being added to increase the bank energy to 250 kilojoules, and the range to 50 feet.
The Spark Shooter I built and operated for several SRL shows operates essentially as a railgun, but uses a molten metal projectile instead of the the traditional sabot-armature arrangement. The box contains a 20 kilojoule storage bank, and can cover an area the size of a football field with molten metal when it fires. It’s one of my favorite SRL machines in terms of its compactness and efficacy.
TO BE CONTINUED
Engineer Greg Leyh will be appearing in-person at the Boston Museum of Science on November 7th, 2012 @ 6:45 pm to present the world premiere of filmmaker Alberta Chu’s documentary “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm.” Greg will give a presentation about the proposed Lightning Foundry project, followed by a reception in the Theater of Electricity.
Buy your tickets in advance: http://www.mos.org/events_activities/events&d=5620
Nov 1, 2012
I first met Greg Leyh in 1997 while Producing a Sci-Fi Channel shoot for Paramount TV. We were filming with Mark Pauline’s notorious San Francisco machine performance art group Survival Research Laboratories, and Greg was tasked with operating the smoke machine during our shoot. On a documentary TV budget, DGA Director John Jopson wanted to create a post-apocalyptic look and feel in an industrial warehouse wasteland under the highway in San Francisco’s Mission District. On that day, we filmed interviews with SRL Founder Mark Pauline, Computer Scientists Eric Paulos and Karen Marcelo, and we filmed several of the SRL machines cavorting about the yard. Eric Paulos gave us a demonstration of a telepresence robot that was designed to be operated remotely over the internet, alluding to the scary and very real possibility of not knowing who is behind the controls in a war of the future.
As we were wrapping our shoot, Greg approached me in his nondescript manner, “I’m building this really big tesla coil for an eccentric and very wealthy patron of the arts in New Zealand who wants to put it on his Farm.” Greg continued, “It’s gonna be the biggest tesla coil in the world, even bigger than the one Tesla built in Colorado.”
Considering Greg’s background collaborating with Survival Research Labs he was the obvious choice for the task.
Alberta Chu: Greg, can you tell us about your first significant tesla coil. How big was it? Where’d you get the parts?
Greg Leyh: My first coil project was inspired by an accidental collection of parts I came across at a salvage yard in 1989. Sifting through palettes of used pulse capacitors, transformers and busbars from a demolished particle accelerator, I realized that the whole lot could make a decent-sized Tesla Coil. I brought the parts over to Survival Research Labs, and in a few months we assembled what was the world’s largest operating Tesla Coil at the time. We christened the coil by shipping it to Seattle and using it in the ‘Carnival of Misplaced Devotion’ performance. It stood 17 feet tall.
Photo captions: (Seattle, WA 1990) Setting up the coil for "A Carnival of Misplaced Devotion" Survival Research Labs show
AC: Tell us about your favorite SRL show.
GL: The most interesting show was the one where it actually exploded – the Seattle show in 1990, its first SRL performance. In fact the coil was shipped to that show in pieces, untested, and we were feverishly throwing it together during the few days before the show. We finished assembling everything just before the show, so I spent the first 10 minutes of the performance tuning the coil and ramping power until it was running at full bore. The coil then began to reveal some of its unexpected abilities. For instance I didn’t expect the arcs to be able to strike the ground, but they did so quite readily. We also discovered that the arcs happily punch through pneumatic tires on mobile machines. One of the robots, the Running Machine, also displayed an interesting survival trait; when it was struck by an arc, the radio control would glitch and the machine would immediately start marching in reverse. During the show I continued ramping the power, and before long the rotary gap was running well beyond it’s max speed. Near the end of the show when everything usually starts catching fire and blowing up, I discovered that in my haste I forgot to install two critical bolts holding up a large insulator between the rotors… An errant arc reached down and struck the primary winding, jolting the insulator into the high-speed rotors and transforming the gap into a swirling explosion of fire of shrapnel. The coil committed suicide just as everything else in the show was expoding and dying; I couldn’t have planned it any better.
TO BE CONTINUED
Engineer Greg Leyh will be appearing in-person at the Boston Museum of Science on November 7th, 2012 @ 6:45 pm to present the world premiere of filmmaker Alberta Chu’s documentary “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm.” Greg will give a presentation about the proposed Lightning Foundry project, followed by a reception in the Theater of Electricity afterwards.
Buy your tickets in advance:
Photo Caption, Top of Page: (San Francisco, 1990) The 17ft Tesla Coil at the Palace of Fine Arts, sponsored by the Exploratorium Museum