A plasma ball is a device based on the plasma lamp originally invented by Nicola Tesla, and now it is commonly sold as a type of desktop toy or attention-getting gadget. Filled with a mixture of gases such as helium and neon, the plasma ball contains filaments of plasma, which glow and emit electromagnetic radiation in various ways depending on the items placed near the ball.
Lighting Fluorescent Bulbs
Fluorescent light bulbs will light up if placed near an active plasma ball. This is due to the electric current flowing through the plasma, which the glass of the ball does not block. LEDs and argon light bulbs also light up when placed near a plasma ball.
Writing With a Metal Pin
If you cover the plasma ball with aluminum foil then place a piece of paper on the aluminum foil, you can write on the paper with a metal pin or a sharp knife point. Whatever you write will be burned into the paper because of the interaction of the metal and the electric current.
Sciencing Video Vault
Burning Paper Through Metal
If you place a piece of conductive metal, such as a quarter, on top of a plasma ball, you can set a piece of paper or cardboard on fire. All you need to do is place another piece of metal, such as a paper clip, on top of the paper to conduct the electric current through the paper. A bolt of what appears to be miniature lightning will work its way through the paper, burning a hole in it.
Driving a Calculator Crazy
If you place a simple calculator with an LED screen near a plasma ball, the numbers on the calculator will go crazy and start to change all by themselves. Don't try this trick with a valuable calculator, as the experiment may ruin the LED screen.
Shocking Your Friends
If you touch a plasma ball with one hand and touch another person with the other, you will give the other person an electric shock. This is because your body becomes a conductor of electricity. Make sure to warn your friends before you try this trick on them.
Lighting a Match
If you hold an unlit match a few inches over the top of a plasma ball then touch the end of the match with a pencil, the match will catch on fire. You may have to wait up to a minute for this to happen. Be very careful to blow out the match immediately and not allow the fire to spread.
Relighting the Plasma Ball
You can relight a plasma ball briefly after it's been turned off by using your own body to conduct electricity. Place your hand on the plasma ball while it's on, then turn the ball off. Place your hand back on the plasma ball immediately, and you will see electric bolts flash up to your hand. Remove your hand and clap several times. With each clap, you should see more electric bolts run through the plasma ball, even though the electricity to the ball is turned off.
Safety With a Plasma Ball
A plasma ball is a high-voltage electrical device and should be used with caution. The frequencies it emits may interfere with cell phones, Wi-Fi and cordless phones. Because the plasma ball emits electromagnetic radiation, it can interfere with pacemakers. All care should be taken if trying to use the plasma ball to create burning or fire effects, and nothing flammable should be left in contact with the plasma ball.