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Electromagnetic Emission Art 198

mr_lithic writes "The artist Richard Box has used the electromagnetic field generated by overhead transmission cables to power 1300 fluorescent lightbulbs positioned underneath. Some pictures available. Professor Denis Harshaw at Bristol University explains "There's an interactive element to all this, too, for those who go to the site itself. 'You affect the lights by your proximity', explains Richard Box, 'because you're a much better conductor than a glass tube. And there's sound as well as light - a crackling that corresponds to the flashing of the lights. There's a certain smell too, and your hair stands slightly on end.'" Sounds cool and it is on until February 29th. Directons here."
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Electromagnetic Emission Art

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  • by stonebeat.org ( 562495 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @11:32AM (#8355517) Homepage
    other than powering flourecent lights, electromagnetic waves can also kill your brain cells. This is one art exhibit that i dont wanna go visit.
  • Wrong physics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 22, 2004 @11:32AM (#8355520)
    The bulbs will be 'planted' across the site at the foot of an electricity pylon, and will pick up the waste emission from the overhead power line.

    Not really. Lighting the bulbs most certainly reduces the power on the lines. The inductance of the power lines change because of the presence of the bulbs.
  • Science and Art (Score:5, Interesting)

    by apirkle ( 40268 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @11:35AM (#8355530)
    I think it's very interesting that the artist, Richard Box, is an artist in residence with the Physics department at the University of Bristol.

    It's cool to see art and science actively collaborating. From the article:

    The Physics Department at the University of Bristol has played host to a number of artist residencies. In 2002 artist, Richard Box was awarded a Leverhulme Grant to become the department's third artist in residence. Whilst the starting point for other artists have varied, Richard's main interest was in the specialist glass blowing workshop that is integrated alongside the rest of the physics research activities. His interest in glass has always required him to have objects made by others, this residency offered him the chance to begin to learn how to develop his own glass blowing skills and so have greater authority over his own work.
  • free power (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mistered ( 28404 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @11:37AM (#8355543)
    This technique of using the field from high voltage transmission lines has reportedly been used by farmers to power lights in a barn or electrify a fence as this anecdote [google.ca] suggests. The power utilities supposedly have gone after those using the "free" power. I'm not sure how truthful any of these stories are though.

    Also, check out some of his other art [zen.co.uk]. "A rotating, pulsating, elevating, sound and movement activated, life-size neon brain." Now that's just strange.

  • by digitalchinky ( 650880 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @11:38AM (#8355548)
    I toyed with ideas of free lighting (living close to high tension power lines)... seems a little pointless considering thousands of locals run jumper leads of the damn things anyway, with complete immunity from Meralco (Elec company)

    Easier to jumper someone elses jumper leads anyway.
  • Stealing energy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @11:41AM (#8355562)
    The artist Richard Box has used the electromagnetic field generated by overhead transmission cables to power 1300 fluorescent lightbulbs positioned underneath

    Technically, he scoops out energy from overhead lines. True, it's insignificant, but still he could be charged with theft. Of course, since it's art, I doubt anybody at the power company will say anything, but I wouldn't be surprised if they told him to take his art somewhere else.

    A well know, similar "application", was demonstrated when wireless transmission technologies boomed in the 30s in Paris : the first antennas had been installed on top of the Eiffel tower and were putting out dozens of kilowatts. Some smart guy started selling battery-less flashlights under the tower, and a lot of gullible people bought them, amazed that they indeed created light magically without batteries. Little did they know the magic flashlights had a little coil inside that used the Eiffel tower antennas' HF power to light up the bulb, and therefore could only work under the tower. The flashlight seller was eventually caught and, far from being charged for scamming people, was charged for stealing TDF (French wireless authority) energy, which was apparently much worse.

    But anyway, pretty cool art I say. The cows in the field nearby must have fun watching that every night.
  • by Chilliwilli ( 114962 ) <tom,rathbone&gmail,com> on Sunday February 22, 2004 @11:51AM (#8355604)
    Will be headed out there with a camera ASAP. Perhaps local /.ers should arrange a meeting time and all go at once.
  • by mistered ( 28404 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @11:53AM (#8355614)
    One of my friends had some trouble with his underground power connection. The utility inspected it while he was at work, and phoned him and told him they'd need to jumper his neighbour's power. When you're used to jumpers being little plastic caps that go over .1" spacing header pins, it's a little bit of a shock to come home and see a trio of 1/2" wires coming out of your meter, tied to the fence, and then running into the neighbour's.

  • Re:free power (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hao Wu ( 652581 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @11:58AM (#8355646) Homepage
    Isn't this what the Navy used to spy on Soviet sea cables?

    ref: Operation Ivy Bells [randomhouse.com]

  • by MidiSaxMan ( 755371 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @12:06PM (#8355676)
    Growing up on a farm, I have learned of the negative effects "stray voltages" cause to farm animals.

    This is often linked to the power return to the station. Everywhere, electrical service has everything connected in relation to ground, with any difference in the power balance of the phases of power taking a different path back to the source of the power, i.e. the ground itself, and potentially through anything in its path.

    This "stray voltage" manifests itself when animals, with 4 bare hooves, paws, etc. touching the ground, detect small but irritating (to varying degrees) levels of current taking an alternate path back to the source. Animals have also been proven to have a higher sensitivity for detecting stray currents as well, compared to humans.

    Often in cases, to the power companies defense, they will come out to do a check on the premises, and often do find a problem in the local, on-farm wiring, potentially causing the problem.

    Unfortunately, in the cases of newer farms where all the wiring is new and up-to-code, a stray current is often traced to off-the-farm sources, for example, a newly-installed High-voltage Power Line.
  • Re:Science and Art (Score:5, Interesting)

    by colmore ( 56499 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @12:09PM (#8355682) Journal
    I think it's really interesting that the physics department over there seems make this sort of thing a habit. Universities are so often extremely tight penny penchers, I'm impressed that someone was able to convince the bean counters that this is worthwhile.

    I think the sculpture itself is really pretty, it reminds me of De Maria's Lightning Field [lightningfield.org], another large scale installation that uses the surrounding environment.
  • Re:Forest (Score:2, Interesting)

    by frause ( 234486 ) * <`es.emoh' `ta' `esuarf'> on Sunday February 22, 2004 @12:27PM (#8355803)

    A new spin on the "Tree falling in the forest" enigma, isn't it? :-)

    No, more like a new spin on "fair use" (or something).
    If you walk under the powerline and thus happens to draw current from it without paying, is it then theft?
  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd DOT bandrowsky AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday February 22, 2004 @12:30PM (#8355823) Homepage Journal
    I think the piece is more of an artistic rebuttal of the assertion that these high energy transmission lines are safe for humans and animals.

    If you've got an EM field that is powerful enough to light up 1000 light bulbs, it seems intuitive that there is enough energy to cause harm to humans living at similar distances.
  • Re:free power (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SloWave ( 52801 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @12:33PM (#8355840) Journal
    You can get quite a bit of power with just a few loops of wire in the right place under the high tension lines. It would be stealing since you are putting additional load on the power lines. However the lights in the article are being by the electric field driven by leakage current which is lost anyway.
  • Reminds me of school (Score:5, Interesting)

    by panurge ( 573432 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @12:33PM (#8355841)
    This is a true story. I was there, I saw it.

    Our physics teacher was using the Van der Graaf for an experiment (in fact, he was intending to measure the current it produced). Over the demonstrator's bench, a fluorescent tube was flickering. He got annoyed. He climbed on a stool to remove the offending fluorescent.

    You can guess the rest. The remote end of the tube dropped towards the van der Graaf. About 10cm from the dome, there was a spark. The dome discharged through the tube, which flashed, the physicist, and the stool. Most impressive.

    The tube survived falling on the bench. We learned several things from this:

    • Contrary to belief, our teacher knew the f-word.
    • The current was actually so small, as it had to pass down a wooden stool, that he was unhurt.
    • Given enough volts, wood conducts.
  • Re:Not theft. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wes33 ( 698200 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @12:46PM (#8355913)
    no it is theft; iirc the drawing of energy from the field will increase inductance (??) and somewhat decrease the power transmitted on the line (not much). I've heard tell of people using this method to light billboards and being charged with power theft ... might be just an urban legend.

    I once got quite a little jolt from touching a barbed wire fence that ran parallel to a high tension wire ... kind of like those electric fences used for animals (no current so I'm here to write about it, but plenty of volts). Speaking of urban myths (or not), I've also been told a story of someone being killed by touching a large metal pipeline that ran parallel to major power lines.
  • by enosys ( 705759 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @01:11PM (#8356019) Homepage
    A while ago I searched for info about this sort of thing online. It seems that farmers using fences or long wires to get power have been sued for it. I've even read about people who lived close to high power transmitters running fluorescent tubes from small antennas and being sued for it. This is mainly just from usenet posts but I feel there's enough info out there to show that at least some of this was real.

    I also remember one of my high school teachers talking about how he used to work for hydro and look for this sort of thing while flying in a helicopter and inspecting power lines.

    Really it shouldn't be that hard to find this sort of thing. You can just use a time domain reflectometer, and power companies have these for finding cable faults.

  • Re:Wrong physics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dolphinzilla ( 199489 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @01:35PM (#8356150) Journal
    Your correct - the tubes light because the electric field excites mercury ions inside the tube - AND energy that the tubes use is NOT free, the tubes with their little pins all sticking in the air create lower impedance paths to ground for the energy in the power lines to bleed off to - that is the points creates a high distribution of electrons tha nthe surrounding area and thus a high voltage.
  • Re:free power (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SixDimensionalArray ( 604334 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @01:58PM (#8356282)
    This was during the spy era of the Cold War, and it was Operation Ivy Bells. The submarine responsible was the specially outfitted USS Halibut.

    As for how they actually listened in, it was not exactly picking up EMF from outside the cable. Rather, they simply tapped the copper wire by physically inserting some new wire into the cable right alongside the old wire and planting a recording device.

    It's not very difficult to do, and you won't easily be detected when you do it (unlike tapping fiber cable, which can instantly be detected). What's more curious about this case is after some time, when they went back to the location, the recording devices were missing! ;)
  • by MemoryAid ( 675811 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @02:03PM (#8356320)
    Okay, you got me with the "time domain reflectometer." That sounds like something Professor Frink might mention on The Simpsons.

    Seriously, though, how about a little detail on what that does? I suppose I could Google it, but here's my guess:

    The device measures the distance along the line to an increased area of inductive load by timing the reflection of a signal from that part of the line. The helicopter then flies out that far and looks for an antenna.

    Here's another question: Why are British power companies referred to as 'hydro?' Is hydro-electric the default method of producing electricity there? Or is power transmitted around the country using high pressure hydraulic lines and then converted to electricity on site? :-)

    These questions keep me awake at night (briefly).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 22, 2004 @02:28PM (#8356478)
    Would headphones (earphones) cause any "death in braincells" if worn constantly? Since they have magnets in them.. just wondered if any of it pertains ?

  • Re:Wrong physics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dolphinzilla ( 199489 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @03:11PM (#8356680) Journal
    Being a true EE geek I have built a dozen or so various Tesla coils in my life (from a paltry 60,000 volt unit up to a 250,000 volt baby) these units would light up a flourescent tube with ease from 10 to 20 foot away - I have also lit tubes in front of very high power x-band radars (kids DO NOT try at home) - The basic prinicples and physics are the same for high tension power lines although the frequencies involved are lower. So yes, I do know what I am talking about....
  • by Tandoori Haggis ( 662404 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @03:48PM (#8356869)
    During a visit to a power station, we were shown the
    12 Mega Watt output cables. Asides from the crackling noise due to a light drizzle falling on the cables, there were other effects too.

    Having stood under the cables for a couple of minutes, I felt no adverse effect... until I started to walk away. That's when I started to get a headache...

  • by Thomas Shaddack ( 709926 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @05:50PM (#8357473)
    Wood doesn't have to conduct. It's enough it polarizes; the wooden stool then acted as a dielectric in a capacitor. Capacitors can make pretty flashes, both when you charge them with high-enough voltage source, and when they discharge. Hint: Don't touch a high-voltage capacitor before you shorted its terminals with a screwdriver; if the device you just opened was powered off just a while ago, you may avoid a sparkly surprise.

    Capacitors also make good coupling between AC lines and other wires in their vicinity. I had a case when we got a grounding wire broken in a wiring cabinet, and all the computers connected to that circuit had slightly "live" cases - enough to light up a neon bulb slightly, enough to feel "live" on touch when you have high-enough skin resistance, enough to show on a high-impedance digital multimeter (some 60V AC), but not enough to show on a lower-impedance multimeter of a technician the building maintenance person called in after we complained. I had to borrow them my own multimeter.

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