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Hal's Van de Graaff Generator Page
Updated November 21, 2006

Van de Graaff Generator
The above photo of my first Van de Graaff generator.
Click on photo for enlargement.

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All of the devices shown on this page use HIGH VOLTAGE, which may inflict serious injury or death.
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Van de Graaff generators are a type of high-voltage electrostatic generators, created in 1929 by the American physicist and inventor Robert J. Van de Graaff.  They are used as particle accelerators in atomic, medicine and industrial research.

My interest in building a Van de Graaff generator emanated from my research of the Hutchison Effect.  Surprisingly however, I could find very little information concerning constructing one.  The information that I did find seemed to vary significantly from site to site.  In my frustration, I decided to try to purchase a unit on Ebay.  That is where I found Fred Graff, an engineer and physics teacher, who was selling self-made Van de Graff generators.  After several communiques with him, we struck a deal; he would make the complicated components and ship them to me.  Needless to say, what he sent was over 90% of the generator.  You will find more details about the construction of my generator in the following paragraphs.

If you are using a PC, to save a photo or a video, right click on its link and choose "Save Link Target As...".

Video - vdg1.wmv
(7.44 MB  /  1 minute 29 seconds duration) Playin' Around
Click on photo to view video.

As shown, my first Van de Graaff generator is not completed but is functional.  On top of that, it is a hybrid; meaning I have mixed parts of two planned generators into one, for economic and experimental purposes.  The tower (the clear acrylic tube) is six inches in outer diameter and is nearly six feet in height.  I purchased this height tower so that it could accommodated the generated voltage of a 30 inch diameter sphere.  However, that size stainless steel sphere costs over $400.00.  I have a second six inch diameter clear acrylic tower, that is shorter, that I plan to use with a 22 inch diameter sphere.  The smaller sphere was less than half the cost of the larger, so I opted to purchase the smaller sphere first; that's the economic part.  I have temporarily mated the 22 inch sphere to the taller tower so that I can use it now; that's the experimental part.  When I finish all of my current incomplete projects, I will purchase the larger sphere, which might be awhile.

At the top and bottom of the tower is an acrylic roller, each treated to accomplish the task of placing an electrical charge on the belt that runs on the rollers.  The blue belt is made of rubber and is nearly five inches in width when stretched over the rollers.   The lower roller is rotated by a small AC motor mounted at the base of the tower.  The belt's speed is determined by a variac which varies the amount of AC voltage going to the motor.

The sphere is the collector of the DC charge that is carried up the belt.  When the generator is operational, an electrical field of energy emanates from the sphere, which is called "ion wind".  When the sphere reaches saturation, it discharges its stored energy to any nearby object.  The amount of energy a sphere can store is proportional to its size and shape.  A sphere of 22" in diameter has the potential to emit 11 joules of energy, which is very dangerous.  However, currently my generator is not very efficient and does not emit that level of energy but is still quite dangerous if mishandled.  In the dark, discharges can be seen as sparks or as plasm streamers.

There are many demonstrations that can be done with a Van de Graaff generator.  To the left is a link to a video of me touching the sphere during my Van de Graaff's operation.   There are more videos to come.

Below are a series of photos that show the construction of the top and bottom of the tower.  I'll go into more detail at a later date.
vdg4.jpg vdg5.jpg vdg6.jpg vdg7.jpg vdg8.jpg vdg9.jpg vdg3.jpg

Since Van de Graaff generators emit direct current (DC) at very high voltages, they are extremely dangerous to anyone with a heart condition.  Also, the output from a Van de Graaff generator CAN DAMAGE A PACEMAKER.  People with pacemakers should not be in the same room with an operating Van de Graaff generator.  Also, a Van de Graaff generator can emit ozone gas, which can be harmful if breathed.  Ample ventilation is required when operating a Van de Graaff generator.  Please read the ozone warning directly below.

When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs.  Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritation.  Ozone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections.  People vary widely in their susceptibility to ozone.  Healthy people, as well as those with respiratory difficulty, can experience breathing problems when exposed to ozone.  Exercise during exposure to ozone causes a greater amount of ozone to be inhaled, and increases the risk of harmful respiratory effects.  Recovery from the harmful effects can occur following short-term exposure to low levels of ozone, but health effects may become more damaging and recovery less certain at higher levels or from longer exposures (US EPA, 1996a, 1996b).

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