A shocking good time

Terry Blake attracts lightning to his suit-protected body. Photo: Jeff Larson

Ever been so close to lightning you could feel its heat? Fermilab Booster Technical Specialist Jeff Larson and his group of friends have. In fact, they make a hobby of harnessing lightning in the palms of their hands and, better still, they do it for an audience.

On Nov. 3 the group, befittingly named Masters of Lightning, will perform their seemingly frightful feats at SciTech Museum in Aurora, Ill. – a show the museum expects to sell out fast.

“The looks on people’s faces when they see the show for the first time is pretty priceless,” Larson said. “The ability to be that close to lightning and see it sustained is quite phenomenal, and many people come year after year.” The group has been performing since 2007.

Using Tesla coils, the performers can sustain 10-foot-long lightning strands for hours at a time, and perhaps more shockingly, the technology for such stunts has existed since 1891. Back then Tesla coils weren’t 6 feet tall, like the ones Masters of Lightning use, but they could still charge the surrounding air with high voltage, initiating a lightning bolt.

The technology has advanced since the first Tesla coil and with it, a few new tricks. One trick the Masters of Lightning treat their audience to is familiar tunes, which they play through the lightning.

“We can turn the Tesla coils on and off at audio frequencies to make different and distinct notes, which the lightning responds to,” Larson said. “We play all kinds of stuff like theme music, video game music and classical music.”

The group’s website hosts online videos, which have had nearly 2 million hits. They’ve also played to audiences of as many as 3,000. With so much popularity, Masters of Lightning have every intention of continuing to stun viewers with their light shows well into the future, Larson said.

In addition to the entertainment, education is also an important aspect to the show, Larson said. Many of the demonstrations involve one of Larson’s partners, Terry Blake – stage name Dr. Zeus – standing between two Tesla coils and attracting the lighting to either a flame device he holds or simply his hands. To hear how he stays protected while seemingly holding lightning, check out the show Nov. 3.

—Jessica Orwig