Because She Who Must Be Obeyed and I donate to the Boston Museum of Science, we frequently get invited to exhibit previews and special events. Last Saturday we took a behind the scenes tour of the Theater of Electricity, the wing of the museum that contains the giant Van de Graaf generator, pictured above. This particular device, built by Robert J. Van de Graaf while he was at MIT, was used as a particle accelerator and was capable of generating up to 1.5 million volts. We’ve seen the Lightning! show dozens of times, but this was the first time we were allowed backstage.
Not everyone in attendance was a geeky about the device as I was, so a brief lecture and demonstration was in order before the tour began. He Who Will Not Be Ignored volunteered to be the test subject, displaying the usual hair-raising effect.
The tour began below the floor of the generator, where we could see the rubberized belts that moved charge from a voltage generator to the massive collector at the top of the right column. (The left column is empty, but used to house the long glass vacuum tubes in which particle collisions were observed.)
A series of motors spin the belts past a charge distributor, a long metal plate with pins that “spray” electrons onto the belts. The charged particles are created by the high voltage box in the background.
I noticed a device that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the lab set for Fringe, which I learned was the new Tesla coil, constructed to replace the older inefficient coils currently in use.
And, of course, She Who Must Be Obeyed got to indulge in her Darth Vader fantasy with a fluorescent tube and a smaler Tesla coil.
We hope the special tours continue, but we run the risk of turning He Who Will Not Be Ignored into a jaded expert at the age of eleven. I can imagine him with is class the next time they visit the museum: “The Lightning! show? I’ve seen it. From the inside.”