Electrified Ben

Lightning Across A Dark Sky
Sound of Thunder (59k)

Have you ever watched lightning during a storm? Have you ever wondered about its power? Have you ever wanted to know more about it? Ben Franklin did. Actually, Ben's interest in electricity was not just limited to lightning. He received an electricity tube from his friend Peter Collinson and began to play around with it, performing experiments. However, it is Ben's interest in lightning that we best remember.

Ben suspected that lightning was an electrical current in nature, and he wanted to see if he was right. One way to test his idea would be to see if the lightning would pass through metal. He decided to use a metal key and looked around for a way to get the key up near the lightning. As you probably already know, he used a child's toy, a kite, to prove that lightning is really a stream of electrified air, known today as plasma. His famous stormy kite flight in June of 1752 led him to develop many of the terms that we still use today when we talk about electricity: battery, conductor, condenser, charge, discharge, uncharged, negative, minus, plus, electric shock, and electrician.

Ben understood that lightning was very powerful, and he also knew that it was dangerous. That's why he also figured out a way to protect people, buildings, and ships from it, the lightning rod.

Have you ever heard of Ben's lightning bells? Ben was always looking for new ideas about electricity, since it was one of his favorite pastimes.

Although electricity was just a hobby for Ben Franklin, he made many important contributions. Later scientists, like Michael Faraday and Thomas A. Edison, continued to study electricity using many of Ben's ideas. Even today, scientists are still studying electricity and learning more about it. They've learned that all citizens need to practice good safety habits, since electricity can be very dangerous. Ben Franklin would be amazed at how important his stormy kite flight really was!

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