banner logo

Captured Lightning Sculptures:
Frequently Asked Questions  - FAQ

(Updated 12/22/16)

What are Lichtenberg figures, and how do you make them?

Our Captured Lightning sculptures contain branching chains of microscopic tubes and fractures that were permanently captured deep inside polished specimens of crystal clear acrylic. The scientific name for these intricate patterns are "Lichtenberg figures". They were created by powerful multi-million volt lightning-like electrical discharges that occurred deep inside the acrylic specimens. Unlike laser art, each Captured Lightning sculpture is unique and infinitely detailed. You can learn more about these fascinating objects in our one-page (pdf) explanation or read our more detailed technical explanation. You can also view our 8-minute video that shows how our sculptures are created, a shorter 4-minute video that shows a group of 12 x 12 x 1 inch sculptures being discharged, and 1-minute video clip showing a huge 15" x 20" x 2" specimen being discharged. Making large Lichtenberg figures is a bit dangerous, but is also quite a lot of fun!

Are Captured Lightning sculptures safe?
Yes. All of our sculptures are fully discharged, radiation free, and completely safe. They are virtually unbreakable and make excellent educational gifts for older children (12+) and adults alike. Since they're made from acrylic, they're non-toxic and are not fragile like glass laser art. However, acrylic is relatively soft, so it can be more easily scratched than glass.

What do the terms "dendritic", "bushy", or "chaotic" discharges mean?
Depending upon how much charge we inject and when and how we discharge our sculptures, we can obtain a wide variety of discharge forms. These range from simple tree-like branching (dendritic), densely branched (fern-like or bushy), a thicker layer of randomly tangled discharges (chaotic), or a combination of these. Since pictures are worth thousands of words, it's easier to simply show some examples.  

Can I order online if I don't have a PayPal account?

Yes. Although we use PayPal to support our shopping cart and do secure credit card processing, you don't need to have a PayPal account to purchase sculptures. Our secure checkout system accepts MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and American Express cards. Payment can also be provided directly from your PayPal account if you have one. If you are an international customer and are paying using a credit card, PayPal may request that you enter an email address and password. This will set up a temporary PayPal guest account that simplifies making future purchases from our site.

Can I order by phone instead of ordering online?
Since some customers may not feel comfortable ordering online, and others may want help in selecting bases or ordering, we also accept phone orders at +1 630-964-2699. We can also suggest the best combination of sculptures and bases for your price range. Sculptures and matching light bases can be ordered online from our Gallery 1, Gallery 2, or Factory 2nds and Experimental web pages.

How quickly do you ship?
For in-stock sculptures, we typically ship within 1-3 business days after payment. However, this may be a a day or two longer for large orders or during the busy Christmas season. Custom sublimated plaques or laser engraving typically adds one week. We normally ship via the US Post Office for domestic and international orders, but we may ship using FedEx or UPS for larger orders or for customer preference. We can also ship using overnight/expedited shipping where necessary at added cost. Please contact us if you need expedited shipment or have special requirements.

Do you ship internationally?
Yes. We ship to all countries supported by PayPal. Our checkout process supports seamless conversion from most foreign currencies to US Dollars. PLEASE NOTE: International customers must select a shipping option that meets their delivery needs and covers the additional shipping and processing costs that come with international shipping. Please read and follow these Ordering Instructions. We recommend using Priority Mail International, since this shipment option provides reasonably short delivery intervals, tracking, and insurance. This is especially important during the busy Christmas holiday season.

What about VAT or Customs duties?
International customers are responsible for paying any in-country customs duties, VAT, or postal system customs handling fees. We have no control over these charges, nor can we pre-pay them on your behalf. Please note that the UK Royal Post charges an additional "service fee" for any orders that are subject to VAT.   

Do you offer volume discounts or dealer discounts?
Yes, for both sculptures and bases - up to 50% for sculptures and up to 30% for bases. We accept bank transfers for large domestic or international orders and can accept corporate purchase orders from credit-worthy companies or educational institutions.

Can you make custom sizes, shapes, or custom masked sculptures?
Yes. However, we only make our sculptures once or twice a year, so small quantities of custom sizes, shapes, or masking may have a long lead time. Masked specimens have limited resolution, and some shapes may work better than others due to the physics of the process. We can also use one or more lead masks to create various shaped discharge regions inside sculptures. If the volume is sufficiently high, we can schedule a special custom run. Please contact us directly to discuss your requirements or to get a quotation.

Can you personalize sculptures?
Yes. We can also provide laser engraving for our flat specimens using your graphics. logos, and text. Customers should provide scalable PDF or vector-graphic files for custom logos or graphics. Any custom fonts need to be in vector graphic outline format. A sketch of the size and position of the desired engraving on the an outline of the sculpture is also desirable. Cost includes a USD $30 setup fee per pattern, plus USD $15-35 per sculpture depending on size.  Personalizing typically adds one week to our order processing interval. Please contact us directly for more information.

Can you personalize light bases?
Many of our lighted bases have flat surfaces that can accept silver or gold-colored brushed-finish metal plaques with sublimated black lettering. This converts your sculpture and base into a treasured personalized gift or unique corporate award. Since this work is done by one of our local vendors, it typically adds one week to our order processing interval.

How deep are the figures inside the acrylic?
The discharge layer is typically between 1/4" and 1/2" below the surface. We usually irradiate thicker specimens, cubes, cylinders, or spheres by passing specimens through the accelerator multiple time using different orientations. We also rotate spheres and most cylinders to create complex-shapes and multiple discharge layers. Our most complex specimens require up to three passes through the electron beam. The electron beam at the facility we use is limited to an electron energy of 5 MeV, This provides a maximum penetration depth of ~1/2 inch below the surface of the acrylic.

Can you make figures of any shape?
The physics of the process and acrylic properties introduce some limitations on the physical size and shape of the specimen and of the internal discharge region(s). We have successfully created Captured Lightning within acrylic guitars and drums. We have developed considerable experience in pushing the boundaries of the process to achieve unique artistic effects. Some of our best experimental work can be seen on our "Eye Candy" page. Please contact us to discuss your requirements.

How large a sculpture you can make?
The physics of the process limits single-layer "tree-like" dendritic sculptures to about 18 inches on a side. Larger specimens can be made using multiple discharges or a combination of randomly rooted dendritic and chaotic patterns, or by using masking techniques to create individually charged regions. We have created sculptures as large as 24" x 36". Maximum material thickness is 4". For safety reasons, individual specimen weight is limited to fifty pounds. With Captured Lightning sculptures, bigger is not always better.

Do other materials work?
Although we have created Lichtenberg figures using glass, polycarbonate, polystyrene, and PVC, we've found that most other clear polymers develop darker, charred pathways and more deeply colored, permanent solarization. Unfortunately, glass Lichtenberg figures shatter with little, or no warning. We now use acrylic almost exclusively. From time to time, experimental polycarbonate or tinted acrylic specimens may be available.

What is the best way to display our sculptures?
The internal Lichtenberg figures inside our sculptures are made up of chains of small tubes and fractures that act as tiny mirrors. The best way to display our sculptures is to apply light from the bottom edge or from the side(s) using multiple sources of bright light, such as an array of Light Emitting Diodes (LED's). Unfortunately, viewing the sculpture with the light source coming from behind, such as a window, actually detracts from the sculpture's detail and visibility. Our lighted bases are designed to highlight the inner beauty and exquisite detail lurking inside our sculptures. Most sculpture styles have one or more recommended light bases. Most of our larger panels use custom natural walnut or aluminum bases with velvet-lined cavities that also provide support and protect the sculptures from toppling over.   

Do you offer any lower-priced Captured Lightning sculptures?
We offer a limited number of "factory 2nd" sculptures in many of styles that are discounted by 50% (or more) from their regular price. These are still very nice looking specimens that, for one reason or another, have failed to meet our exacting requirements. From time to time we may also offer first-quality one-of-a-kind specimens or small batches of experimental specimens that we've decided not to offer as standard products. See our Factory 2nd's page for our current selection or contact us for our current inventory of non-standard items.

Does anyone else make Lichtenberg figures?
Some of our very creative friends, Colleen Kobe and Todd Johnson, also make artistic sculptures and help us to expand process boundaries. You can see some of their stunning work on our Eye Candy page and on their web pages at Hi Tech Art and Deviant Art. We are not aware of any other suppliers currently making and offering acrylic Lichtenberg figures to the public.

Is making Lichtenberg figures dangerous?
We've been making these since 2004 and we haven't lost any volunteers thus far. However, accidental multi-million volt shocks from larger specimens can be painful. The discharge is so quick and powerful that it feels more like being physically struck than an electrical shock. A few years ago, one of our friends accidentally became part of the high voltage discharge path while discharging a huge 24" x 24" x 1" specimen. The jolt accidentally passed through one of his fingers, through his arm and torso, eventually exiting through his belt buckle. He said it felt like he smacked the finger with a hammer. Immediately afterwards, all the capillaries closed off, leaving his finger looking frostbitten and pale white. He also lost all feeling in the affected digit. After massaging it for 15 minutes, feeling and color slowly returned with no apparent damage. We later discovered that he was in good company! It turns out that Benjamin Franklin also suffered very similar symptoms from an electrical shock in December, 1750. Franklin was attempting to electrocute a turkey using a bank of high voltage Leyden Jar capacitors prior to a Christmas dinner. The powerful discharge instead passed through Franklin,
almost knocking him senseless, and temporarily leaving one of his fingers white and numb.
 
Did you invent these?
No. The process of injecting electrons into acrylic to make Lichtenberg figures was actually discovered by a pair of physicists, Arno Brasch and Fritz Lange, in the late 1940's. They created the first known 3D polymer Lichtenberg figures using their newly-developed 3 million volt electron accelerator. More information about the history of these fascinating objects can be found here. Over the years, we have tried to develop a better understanding of the physics underlying dielectric breakdown in solids and Lichtenberg figure formation. We've also tried to develop and improve upon practical approaches that push artistic boundaries and technical limitations of the process. We are proud to offer the most beautiful and technologically-advanced Lichtenberg sculptures in the world.

Do you have any other "interesting" products?
We also use extremely powerful pulsed magnetic fields to "shrink" (more accurately re-shape) coins. We can shrink US clad quarters to less than the diameter of a dime in less than 20 millionths of a second - at home! We also shrink a wide variety of other coins, and we also offer custom shrinking of customer-provided coins. Please see our shrunken coins and coins shrinking explanation for more details.

How long have you been in business?
We have been offering unique items and delighting customers worldwide since 2002. During this time, we have developed a reputation for delivering unique, high-quality products, rapidly shipping, and providing superior customer service. We strive to delight our customers!

What is your Customer Satisfaction guarantee?

If you're not satisfied, you may return any item for a full refund or replacement (at your option) within 14 days after receipt. Lighted bases are warranted against manufacturing defects for 1 year.

Have more questions?
Please contact us. We're happy to discuss any special requirements or answer any questions you may have.


Contact Information:

  Stoneridge Engineering LLC  - the "Spark Whisperers"
info@capturedlightning.com
+1 630-964-2699

To Gallery 1...
To Gallery 2...
To Eye Candy Page...
What are these?
Gallery 1
(Styles 1-20 and 54)
Gallery 2
(Styles 21-84)
"Eye Candy"
Some of our best work
What are these and how were they made?

 

Some Other Places to Visit:
Tesla Information Center
Quarter Shrinker
Link to 345 kV Switch MPEG
10" Tesla Coil Deleware Quarter
Tesla Info Center
The "Quarter Shrinker"
BIG Arcs & Sparks
10" Tesla Coil
Get Shrunken Coins!

To Stoneridge Engineering Home



Copyright 1999-2016, All rights reserved.  No portion of this page may be reproduced without written consent..