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When we think about research into the origins of electricity, names like Andre Ampere, Georg Ohm or Benjamin Franklin and his kite might come to mind. Who’d have thought about stroking a cat with amber, testing electrical conductivity with a small child or using one’s finger to touch 100,000 volts?

The world is an amazing place, and understanding how it works is phenomenally interesting.

Nigel Latta

Needless to say, most of these fall into the ‘don’t try this at home’ category. It’s much safer – and more humorous – to watch Nigel Latta test these things.

Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up
Watch Series 1/Episode 1: Lightning
www.tvnz.co.nz/ondemand/nigel-latta-blows-stuff-up/19-04-2015/series-1-episode-1

Science ideas and concepts in Episode 1: Lightning

In between the drama and humour, Nigel introduces a number of important science concepts. This episode explores:

  • electricity
  • conductivity
  • lightning
  • how the body uses electrical impulses to move skeletal muscle

Nature of science

Science is often seen as being dry, uninspiring and unimaginative. Creativity is found in all aspects of scientific research, from coming up with a question, to creating a research design, interpreting and making sense of findings and looking at old data in new ways.

Resources on the Science Learning Hub provide an in-depth – and safer – means to further explore these concepts.

Electricity and conductivity

Electricity occurs when there is an accumulation or flow of charge. The flow of charge or electrons is known as electric current.

When electric charges flow through something, we call this electrical conduction. The substance that the electric charges are flowing through is called a conductor. Nigel was protected from harm because his car and, later, a special suit formed Faraday shields. A Faraday shield is made of a conductive material that channels electricity along and around but not through the material.

Read about electrical currents, circuits and conductivity.

Activity idea

Electricity and conductivity (suitable for primary and lower secondary)
In this activity, students construct simple electrical circuits and test a variety of materials to identify those that are good conductors and those that do not conduct electricity.
Testing for conductivity

Lightning

Lightning is a large-scale natural spark discharge that occurs in the atmosphere or between the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface. On discharge, a highly electrically conductive plasma channel is created in the air, and when current flows in this channel, it rapidly heats the air up to about 25,000°C.

New Zealand is part of a network that detects lightning strikes around the world. It provides valuable weather information about thunderstorm location and activity to meteorological services, air travel operators and others.

Lightning explained

Lightning location network

What is WWLLN?

Activity idea

Lightning web quest and using the World Wide Lightning Location Network (suitable for upper primary and lower secondary)
In this activity, students use the web to answer a series of questions about lightning. They log onto the World Wide Lightning Location Network to view lightning activity in the South Pacific.
Viewing and monitoring lightning

Electrical impulses and muscles

Electrical impulses stimulate the contraction (movement) of skeletal muscles. In cardiac (heart) and smooth muscles, the contractions are stimulated by internal pacemaker cells, which regularly contract without any conscious control.

Nerves within the human body carry the electrical impulses that move our muscles. Nigel used the good-natured chef Michael Van de Elzen to demonstrate how small electrical shocks interfere with muscle movement.

Useful links

Check out this Wikipedia article to learn more about a Faraday cage.

Use literacy resources from Connected to support science understanding:
Thunder and lightning Connected Number 2 2004
Jumping for joules Connected Number 3 2008
Of elbows and eels Connected Number 2 2004
Electric map Connected Number 3 1998

Learn more about Connected.

 

    Published 7 May 2015 Referencing Hub articles