Microscopy Primer
Light and Color
Microscope Basics
Special Techniques
Digital Imaging
Confocal Microscopy
Live-Cell Imaging
Microscopy Museum
Virtual Microscopy
Web Resources
License Info
Image Use
Custom Photos
Site Info
Contact Us

The Galleries:

Photo Gallery
Silicon Zoo
Chip Shots
DNA Gallery
Amino Acids
Religion Collection
Cocktail Collection
Screen Savers
Win Wallpaper
Mac Wallpaper
Movie Gallery

Interactive Java Tutorials

Lightning: A Natural Capacitor

Lightning is one of the naturally occurring mechanisms that provided early mankind with the ability to understand and harness fire. This meteorological phenomenon occurs when water-filled clouds and the ground act in unison to mimic a huge natural capacitor. View the build-up of static electrical charges between storm clouds and the wet ground during a thunderstorm with this tutorial, which simulates capacitor-like lightning discharges.

Interactive Java Tutorial
Our servers have detected that your web browser does not have the Java Virtual Machine installed or it is not functioning properly. Please install this software in order to view our interactive Java tutorials. You may download the necessary software by clicking on the "Get It Now" button below.


The process of evaporation and condensation of atmospheric water within clouds causes water droplets to collide with dust, ionizing radiation, and each other. As a result of these collisions, electrons are knocked off the particles, creating ions that subsequently migrate and lead to a charge separation in the clouds. Negative electrical charges accumulate at the base of clouds, which can be loosely compared to a negative plate of a capacitor. Meanwhile, the build-up of charges within the clouds induces positive charge accumulation on the ground, comparable to the positive plate of a capacitor. The air between the clouds and ground becomes the dielectric or insulating medium for this natural capacitor. Subsequently, a high-strength electrostatic field is produced between the clouds and the ground that can produce ions and free electrons in the air. Eventually the difference in potential between the clouds and the ground can become so great that the air dielectric begins to break down, and the ions and free electrons provide a necessary path that short-circuits this natural capacitor, initiating a flash of lightning.

Contributing Authors

Matthew J. Parry-Hill, Robert T. Sutter and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.


Questions or comments? Send us an email.
© 1998-2015 by Michael W. Davidson and The Florida State University. All Rights Reserved. No images, graphics, scripts, or applets may be reproduced or used in any manner without permission from the copyright holders. Use of this website means you agree to all of the Legal Terms and Conditions set forth by the owners.
This website is maintained by our
Graphics & Web Programming Team
in collaboration with Optical Microscopy at the
National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.
Last modification: Friday, Nov 13, 2015 at 01:19 PM
Access Count Since September 5, 2002: 37141
For more information on microscope manufacturers,
use the buttons below to navigate to their websites: