What was Benjamin Franklin's contribution to lightning study?

Dateline article| David Murphy|

by David Murphy

Aside from the lightning rod idea, Franklin's famous electrical experiments proved that lightning is electrical in nature. These ideas included his much celebrated kite experiment.

Unfortunately, the experiments involved some trial and error---some of it fatal! Franklin's first idea was to erect an iron pole extending from inside a small shack and have a researcher stand inside the shack on an insulated platform with one's hand on the rod, waiting to see sparks shoot from the other free hand to the ground. At least one scientist repeating the experiment was killed when a lightning bolt directly contacted the rod---and the scientist! Franklin's later experiments using a kite worked-out a bit better, because he used a length of silk between his hand and a metal key tied to the kite's string. The electric spark produced during this experiment jumped from the key to Franklin's knuckles, but proved survivable (at least in Franklin's case).

For those keeping score, Franklin's famous kite experiment occurred in 1752. It's definitely not a good idea to try recreating the experiment, however. For one thing, the theory's already been proven. For another, the experiment is still dangerous, even if Franklin survived it.

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