Plant Physiology and Lightning

Thomas Scarborough scarboro at
Mon Aug 23 05:29:37 EST 2004


In a moment, the results of my experiments - but first off, I think I might
have been had (again - on the Chat Zone below). Correct me if I'm wrong. The
fact is there are ideas scouts out there, and they can be cunning. Esteban
Cabrera once wrote to me after one of my ideas was swiped, "Take care Mr.
Scarborough, because 'the boys' are hungry for new things."

An example. Someone posed on the Chat Zone as a humble experimenter wanting
TENS circuits/ideas. It turned out he was the head of a company that
manufactures the units in South Africa - but he had posed as someone else.
He got all he needed before I discovered it. Another example. Someone
contacted me, posing as an expert who wanted to discuss metal detecting
principles. The next thing a design of mine (modified) appeared on a
website. In that case the web page was removed on discovery. Regrettably I
at first assumed the wrong culprit - I know the name now.

Such people appeal to your sense of pride - go on, your stuff is
pseudo-rubbish, your ideas won't withstand scrutiny. And such a person is
likely to be untraceable, and their name might never appear again. Or
conversely, they say I'm a leading expert, let me share the following
information confidentially with you, and what can you share with me? Or
they'll appeal to your sense of benevolence, and so on.

However, I should add that most people don't have such deceit in them - the
problem comes in distinguishing those who do from those who don't, which I
haven't been terribly good at.

With this in mind, I believe that I have said too much with regard to my
plant physiology experiments (on the Chat Zone below), and therefore I have
decided to reveal what I have been experimenting with. Perhaps someone else
might like to run with these ideas.

I developed a circuit that triggered on a tree's physiological response to
static charge - and judging by my results, this ought to include lightning.
The circuit worked, but it was unstable, and I don't anticipate having the
time to smooth out the problems to take it to a publishable standard (I'm
embarking on a Master's degree this coming month and need to "clear the

Well I happened to be experimenting simultaneously with atmospheric charge
and plant physiology - the first of these being the basis for an EPE project
which the editor has hinted at - the second being a science project that I
was helping some students with.

What would happen, I wondered, if a tree were presented with a static
charge? I experimented with ash trees, as well as smaller plants, and the
results were striking. When I touched the trees with a charged item, they
instantly pumped themselves up to (I assumed) a high potential, which they
held steadily for a few minutes. The trees further showed a reaction when
only the air surrounding them was charged.

But I had a problem, which I have roughly described below. Any given section
of a tree gave the same voltage reading, but concatenated sections gave
readings that didn't seem to make sense. How high really did the potential
rise across the whole tree, top to bottom? By extrapolation, perhaps
hundreds of volts. But it's an open question.

I thought, what is the meaning of this? My reasoning as follows:

Any tree which were "pumped up" like this might lessen its "visibility"
beneath a thundercloud. That is, it would reduce the likelihood of a
lightning strike on the tree, since the tree would be more negatively
charged in relation to the cloud. This would seem to agree with studies
(reported e.g. in New Scientist) which show that the occurrence of lightning
is reduced over forested areas - studies which have so far expressed a
greater or lesser degree of bafflement over the phenomenon.

A more distant thought is - if this should be true, that trees protect
themselves from lightning by "pumping themselves up" electrically, then how
much electrical energy would a forest contain during a thunderstorm? Enough
to be tapped?

As a further development of this idea, it would seem that it might be
possible to charge up the human body to become "invisible" to a
thundercloud, perhaps with a small hand-held device. The recruitment of
volunteers for the first field tests will commence shortly.

Thomas Scarborough, 23 August 2004,

on the EPE Chat Zone

E-mail scarboro at

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