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Captured Lightning Sculptures:
Frequently Asked Questions  - FAQ

(Updated 09/30/21)

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 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 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. Care should be used in handling and cleaning your sculpture.

What do the terms "dendritic", "bushy", or "chaotic" discharges mean?
Depending upon how much electrical 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 handle secure credit card processing, you don't need to have a PayPal account to purchase sculptures. Our secure checkout system accepts credit and debit cards from MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and American Express cards. Payment can also be provided directly from your PayPal account if you have one, or bank account. 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 +1 224-252-0916. 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 Experimental Sculptures 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 to our interval. 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 almost 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?
We do offer a discounted pricing structure for orders greater than 20 pieces. Please contact us for details and to obtain a quotation. We accept bank transfers for large domestic or international orders and we 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 a few times a year, so small quantities of custom sizes, shapes, or masking may have a fairly long lead time. Masked specimens have limited resolution, and some shapes may work better than others due to the physics of the process. For higher resolution graphics, laser engraving is recommended. 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 or do laser engraving?
Yes. We can also provide laser engraving for most 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 an outline of the sculpture is also desirable. Cost includes a setup fee per pattern, plus a charge per sculpture. Personalizing typically adds one week to our order processing interval. Volume discounts are available. Please contact us directly for more information or to get a quote for your project.

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 electron beam multiple times using different orientations. We may also rotate spheres and cylinders to create complex-shapes and multiple discharge layers. Our most complex specimens require up to four 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?
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 48" x 48". Maximum material thickness is 4". For safety reasons, individual specimen weight is limited to 80 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 support the sculptures and prevent them from toppling over.   

Do you offer any lower-priced Captured Lightning sculptures?
From time to time we 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 Experimental Sculptures 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 make artistic sculptures from time to time and help us expand processing boundaries. You can see some of their stunning work on our Eye Candy page and on their web pages at Deviant Art. We are not aware of any other suppliers currently making or 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 large 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 in his finger closed off, leaving his finger looking frostbitten and pale white. He also lost all feeling in the affected finger. 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 a powerful electric 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 accidentally 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" (or, more accurately, "re-shape") coins. We 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 as Stoneridge Engineering since 2002 and with our partners at Captured Lightning LLC since 2018. During this time, we've developed a reputation for delivering unique, high-quality products, rapid shipping, and superior customer service. We strive to delight our customers! We have recently transferred the Lichtenberg figure and coin shrinking portions of the business to Dale Sulak of Captured Lightning. LLC. Dale is continuing to provide new products and the same high quality and service our customers have come to expect. 

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:

  Captured Lightning LLC
+1 224-252-0916

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Gallery 1
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Gallery 2
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"Eye Candy"
Some of our best work
What are these and how were they made?


Some Other Places to Visit:
Tesla Information Center
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