June 14, 2021

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High Voltage Gives Metal Balls a Mind of their Own

High Voltage Gives Metal Balls a Mind of their Own

High Voltage Gives Metal Balls a Mind of their Own

Have you ever seen something that’s so fascinating you’re sure there has to be some kind of practical application for it, but you just can’t figure out what? That’s how we feel when watching tiny ball bearings assemble themselves into alien-like structures under the influence of high voltage in the latest Plasma Channel video from [Jay Bowles].

Now to be clear, [Jay] isn’t trying to take credit for the idea. He explains that researchers at Stanford University first documented the phenomena back in 2015, and that his goal was to recreate their initial results as a baseline and go from there. The process is pretty simple: put small metal ball bearings into a tray of oil, apply high voltage, and watch them self-assemble into “wires” that branch out in search of the ground terminal like a plant’s roots looking for water. With the encouragement of his 500,000 volt Van de Graaff generator, the ball bearings leaped into action and created structures just like in the Stanford study.

With the basic pieces now in place, [Jay] starts to push the envelope. He experiments with various oils to see how their viscosity impacts the ball’s ability to assemble, finding that olive oil seems to be the ideal candidate (at least of those he’s tried so far). He also switches up the size and shape of the tray, to try and find how far the balls can realistically stretch out on their own.

In the end we’re no closer to finding a practical application for this wild effect than the good folks at Stanford were back in 2015, but at least we got to watch the little fellows do their thing in glorious 4K and with the exceptional production value we’ve come to expect from Plasma Channel. That said, [Jay] does hint at his ongoing efforts to turn the structures into works of art by “freezing” them with clear resin, so keep your eyes out for that.