Tech – Fulmen Hominem

Posted: January 15, 2014 in Playing pretend, Projects and Tech, Steampunk
Tags: , ,

From the laboratory notes of Abraham van Helsing

Generation of high differential tension and effect on tissue (living and dead)

Who is not familiar with the galvanic reaction?  While Galvani made many fine contributions to science, history will best remember him for his demonstration of the invigoration and  reanimation of a severed frog’s leg by means of electrical application.  This most fascinating application, taken to an extreme by the hubris of doctor Victor Frankenstein, suggests a use for this phenomenon somewhere between a twitching severed limb and a monstrous creature last spotted above the Arctic circle.

I have had the occasion and privilege of speaking at length with a brilliant Austrian, Nikola Tesla, at the Exposition Universelle in Paris.  The brunt of our conversation fixed primarily on Herr Tesla’s furtherance in generating large differential potentials from meaner levels.  His demonstrations of lightning summoned and tamed by his hand were like watching a Zeus of old.  While his displays harmed him not, he noted that without his preparations, the wrath of the tamed bolts would be terrible to behold.

On the train back from the Exposition, my mind had occasion to wander from Herr Tesla’s display to Volta’s demonstration of Galvani’s work.  While the apparatus Tesla employs for his work was great in power, so too was it in bulk.  If, perhaps, less power were employed, the size may be reduced to something a man may easily carry?  For  any tissue, whether it belong to those living or once living, will jump and tense to the influence of a bolt of electricity.  Among the creatures I have read of or even had the occasion to face, all shared the commonality of flesh.  To this end, their bodies betraying their will by the introduction of a high potential, I bend my next focus.

The resultant device created quite satisfying displays, and its damped bite was enough to deny me the use of my hand for a notable duration.  I must note that the full effect must be terrible indeed to be effective against the things outside man’s usual sphere: to this caution must be taken not to introduce the effects of this on a man, as the result will be most severe.  The device proved, the next challenge comes in reducing the size of coils and galvanic pile to something that can be carried – currently the excitation device occupies much of a laboratory table.”


As part of a costume for the character of Abraham van Helsing (less the bold scholar of medicine in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, more the swashbuckling character in a recent movie), I created several props of varying degrees of function.  One of them is this baton capped with man’s lightning.  For this, I gutted an inexpensive stun gun, and formed the rod around the secondary, high-step transformer.  The priming circuitry, responsible for stepping 9V up to a few hundred, was housed in an arm guard that was frankly ugly.

The central ball was one of the output electrodes, and the guard ring around it the second half.  When it was energized, arcs would strike at random around the ring.  The energized section was isolated from the control by an acrylic rod (illuminated with an LED for effect)

Notable problems I had with this device:

  • Variable display: the arcing display would not be consistent, varying with environmental conditions and ring oxides, from violet tracers (like a plasma ball) to full arcs, to no arcs.
  • Insulator breakdown: I do not know if the potential reached the neighborhood of the advertized 100kV, but the insulation between the outer bronze conductors and the hidden wire to the secondary transformer developed a flaw.  It began arcing across the base.  Once the initial strikes burned through the insulation, I could not create a good replacement.  I tried stripping the area and filling it with hot glue, resin epoxy, clay, even silly putty (which burns interestingly, by the way).

It was a learning experience, and one I think I will revisit at some point to finalize.  I have some corona dope, so I am hopeful.

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