Big Tesla Coil: Mid-America Science Museum
Hot Springs, Arkansas
"Caged Lightning" is the star of the Mid-America Science Museum, and in 2007 it was certified by Guinness as the World's Most Powerful Conical Tesla Coil -- a lightning-bolt-spitting invention first perfected by crazed genius Nikola Tesla.
The Tesla Coil stands inside a floor-to-ceiling, 2.5-ton Faraday cage (thus the name Caged Lightning) which is lined with metal screens to protect the Museum's thrill-seeking viewers from being incinerated. The operator turns a key, a transformer hums to life, and purple bolts of plasma suddenly explode with ear-splitting crackles and crashes, flinging themselves to all corners of the cage, probing for a weak point. It's like a lightning storm inside a cage inside a building. Whooping and cheering audiences are left with a one-of-a-kind memory, the smell of fresh ozone, and a sense of hearing that will probably never be quite as good as when they arrived.
The Tesla Coil was donated to the museum by Richard Mathias, a retired electrical engineer and a Hot Springs native. He has subsequently given similar Tesla Coils to science museums in places such as Texarkana and Johnson City, Tennessee, but this one in his home town was his first.
Beth, the intern who was turning the key when we visited, was as excited as we imagined Richard Mathias had been when he first powered up the Coil. "This is, like, the most awesome summer job ever."