Kenneth Sweet
General Physics II
Physics 212-F04
March 24, 2005
Web Project
How to Build a Jacobs Ladder

Figure 1: Jacobs Ladder
Introduction

This website will go over the aspects of building a Jacobs Ladder, playing with it and understanding the physics behind the operation of it. A Jacobs ladder is a really cool device where two parrallel conductors called ladders are connected to a high voltage transformer and an arc jumps between the two electrodes and climbs up the ladder. This is a really cool experiment.  For the sake of clarity when the term voltage is tossed around it is implying a differential voltage.

Before undertaking this experiment it must be pointed out that messing around with high voltage equipment can be extremely dangerous and potentially fatal if appropriate steps are not taken into consideration. While this may seem hazardous it is very easy to maintain the safety level required and still have fun making and playing with a Jacobs ladder.

It is a common misconception that the voltage in an electric circuit is destructive to our bodies. The charge that is flowing or the current is damaging to our bodies. However, charge cannot flow without voltage and the higher the voltage is the easier charge will flow. You may have wondered in the past why a bird doesn’t get electrocuted when they sit in a power line that have anywhere from a few thousand volts up to several hundred thousand volts. It turns out that the birds are not completing a circuit or grounded; the charge has nowhere to travel to. For this experiment it is crucial that your body does not complete the circuit for any of the electrical equipment used in this experiment.

The human nervous system operates on electric signals and it is extremely sensitive to any outside sources of electricity. When a person uses their body to complete an electric circuit they are providing a path for the charge to flow through. The human body has an internal resistance to charge flow. When charge flows across a resistive element it causes the resistor to heat up and energy is released in the form of radiation and heat. If the energy is too great it can cause the resistor to burn up and explode. This is one of the things that make electricity very dangerous if not treated with caution. The human heart can be stoped with as little as 20 milliamps of charge flowing through it.