Studying Light-Generated Chemical Reactions


Over 1.2 billion lightning flashes are estimated to occur annually. Each of these flashes releases high levels of heat energy with some flashes being in excess of 30,000 Kelvin. This is a temperature that can break molecules into individual atoms and thus facilitate the occurrence of many different reactions especially those involving atmospheric gases, mainly oxygen and nitrogen.  The free nitrogen and oxygen atoms readily combine to form Nitrogen (I) Oxide (NO) which is both colorless and odorless. Nitrogen oxides are therefore formed in colossal amounts in the atmosphere when the lightning flashes occur.

The formation of nitrogen oxides (NOx) is usually followed by reactions with other gases in the presence of sunlight resulting in the formation of ozone. It is highly probable that lightning could create a feedback cycle responsible for accelerating global warming. Pickering proposes a theory that suggests lightning emanating from effects of global warming create a cycle that leads to production of more greenhouse gases and hence more warming. In the theory, he proposes that global warming leads to an increase in the number of thunderstorms which in turn increases the production nitrogen oxides which ultimately lead to more radiative forcing, production of more ozone and subsequently more global warming. The theory has been supported by  some global modeling studies though field observations are yet to conclusively confirm it.

Research Purpose:

This research is intended to determine the effect on NOx concentration after some time when a tesla coil creates a spark in a container filled with air. The research is being conducted by Dr. Dwyer research. It is being carried out in Florida due to the high number of lightning flashes in the area and thus prove or disapprove the theory that lightning leads to the formation of nitrogen oxides.

Research Question:

How does the Tesla coil spark duration affect NOx concentration?  

Note:  A Tesla coil can operate continuously for a maximum of 3 minutes after which the unit becomes susceptible to damage.  For tests where spark duration should be longer than 3 minutes, the coil should run for 3 minutes after which it should be allowed to cool for 10 minutes before running it again for another duration.


We believe that by increasing the Tesla coil spark duration, the concentration of nitrogen oxides in the sample of air will increase gradually due to the extended time the gases are espoused to the charge. The longer time exposed means that there will be a higher Temperature and more charge which will be able to break up more oxygen and nitrogen molecules and give them more opportunities to react and form nitrogen oxides.



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