EL-wire “Jacob’s Ladder”


Paul of Chicago, IL, wrote in with his very cool EL Jacob’s Ladder.

I knew I was going to be a Mad Scientist for Halloween this year and I wanted a cool prop for my laboratory (aka garage work bench). As an electrical engineer, I was always fascinated by the electric “Jacob’s Ladder” displays (or, more accurately, high voltage traveling arc). It really is the definitive mad scientist accessory, even though it really serves no (mad) scientific purpose other than demonstrating how high voltage can ionize air and jump large gaps. However, the rapidly rising white hot plasma and its buzzing and crackling sound cannot be beat.

However, there was an obvious reluctance to actually use high voltage. So he made a simulated Jacob’s Ladder with EL wire, a SparkFun EL Sequencer, an Arduino & Wave Shield along with a Lego enclosure.

6 thoughts on “EL-wire “Jacob’s Ladder”

  1. Simon says:

    From the linked article:

    “2. Sourcing the parts – I imagine I could get some old HV transformers from a surplus shop or eBay, but I wasn’t sure what I needed”

    What you need is an old neon sign transformer. The big, solid metal kind, not the newer switch mode ones.

    They are designed to be self limiting current wise so they can stand being shorted out which is effectively what’s happening when there is an arc between the output terminals.

    They are also very dangerous. High voltages, more than enough current to kill you, they produce ozone and the arc is strong in UV light. They are very, very cool for making Jacobs ladders though!

    I have one I made and I always tell people to stand well back when I am demonstrating it. The thing is so unsafe it isn’t funny.

  2. Alyanna Carino says:

    Hey is this appropriate for a 6th grade science fair project? Is there a way to make it safer and not put my class in danger?

    1. John Baichtal says:

      EL wire is not dangerous — you can touch it with your bare hands. https://www.adafruit.com/index.php?main_page=adasearch&q=el+wire

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My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal nerdage.net

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