Science Time

Lightning: So Frightening

What is lightning? What warning signs does lightning give? Does a lightning flash travel upwards or downwards? Why does lightning flicker? Why isn't it a good idea to lie down on the ground when there is a thunder storm around? Why does lightning sometimes kill but at other times does not? Why do so many people die unnecessarily after being struck by lightning? What causes thunder, and why does it rumble? Who holds the world record for the total number of times being struck by lightning and surviving, and what happened to him on each occasion?

See the strong spark from a Leyden jar, even longer sparks from a one-half-million-volt Tesla coil, the effect of electricity on the muscles of students (ouch!!), how lightning caused an Italian church to explode, what happens when lightning strikes a car, and more, and hear some fascinating stories involving lightning.


Study how Benjamin Franklin determined the nature of lightning, how and why lightning affects the human body, the concept of the lightning rod (including its application in the lightning rod umbrella), different types of lightning strikes to people and other animals, ways to protect yourself from being struck by lightning (including safe places to be during an electrical storm, a common misconception about why being in a vehicle can protect you from lightning, and why lightning can affect an oak tree more than a gum tree, and come away with a very much heightened appreciation of the dangers of lightning.


The content of this show relates to the following content descriptions of the Australian Curriculum: Science.
Science Understanding: ACSSU 097.
Science as a Human Endeavour: ACSHE 013, 021, 022, 034, 035, 050, 061, 098, 100.
Science Inquiry Skills: N/A.


Suitable for upper primary and all secondary; even Year 12 Physics.


Cost: $7.00, plus 70c GST, per student
Minimum: $770, plus $77 GST
Teacher Notes supplied

Venue Requirements 

Data projector and screen; three tables; enclosed venue (sparks cannot be seen in bright light); ground (or an earthed building frame) within 9 m of the demonstration area; close fire alarms, computers, and other electronic devices turned off during show (electrical signals may activate an alarm).

Feedback From Schools

  • "The activities were exciting, good to join in, I liked the examples and stories . . . the lightning machine was very cool, you could have "zapped" us more strongly and for longer . . . an awesome show, I hope we can do that again, learnt some interesting things . . . it could have gone for a tad longer." Students, Inglewood State School, Queensland
  • “On behalf of the Staff and students, thank you; we thoroughly enjoyed your show. You were very engaging and funny and sure knew how to make science interesting. Jemma Stevens, Head of Department (Science), Woree State High School, Cairns, Qld 
  • “Thank you so much for a terrific show. The very positive student comments included that it was very interesting and exciting and that you were an enthusiastic presenter. We will be in touch next year.” Craig McGrath, Head of Science, Aviation High School, Brisbane, Qld