The Labs That Go Boom: The Lightning Research Lab Builds its Own Bolts

Where students study the phenomenon, and get to play Zeus

John B. Carnett

This month, as part of our special on the future of education, PopSci_ presents 10 labs where students do serious research (and career training) by blowing stuff up._

Lab: The Lightning Research Lab at the University of Florida
Career: Lightning-tolerant spacecraft designer, power utilities engineer

A lucky few engineering students at the University of Florida get to do something vaguely magical: conjure their own lightning.

To make bolts, students fire specially designed rockets, each of which trails metal wires connected to sensors, directly into thunderstorms. Students examine high-speed video of strikes to study lightning-bolt physics and test materials by directing bolts toward a target.