What are Lichtenberg figures, and how do you make them?
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
as powerful multi-million volt lightning-like electrical discharges blasted their way through the interior of 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
Are Captured Lightning sculptures safe?
are fully discharged, radiation free, and completely safe. They are
virtually unbreakable and make
excellent educational gifts for older children (12+) and adults alike.
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. Care should be used in handling and cleaning your sculpture.
What do the terms "dendritic", "bushy", or "chaotic" discharges mean?
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?
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?
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?
in-stock sculptures, we typically
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
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, and these packages tend to flow through Customs more quickly. 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
Can you make custom sizes, shapes, or custom masked sculptures?
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 and complexity.
Personalizing typically adds one week to our order processing interval.
Please contact us directly for more information.
Can you personalize light bases?
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?
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
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 about 1/2 inch below the surface of the acrylic.
Can you make figures of any shape?
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.
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?
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?
internal Lichtenberg figures inside our sculptures are made up of
chains of small tubes and fractures that act as tiny mirrors. The
way to display our sculptures is to apply light from the bottom edge or
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
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
time to time we may also offer first-quality one-of-a-kind specimens or small batches
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
contact us. We're happy to discuss any special requirements or answer any
questions you may have.