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Greg Leyh: An Engineer with an Artistic Framework (Part 2)

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.


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:

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