Project Lightning Glass 


Currently I am working on a project which aims to use the static electrical energy of planet Earth to create predetermined fulgurite sculptures. The project has been in the design and development stage for four years during which time the required gas kilns and two tier towers have been perfected.

             Natural Fulgurite, silca sand strike Unheated silca sand.

In planning this groundbreaking project the logistical considerations have been manifold and complex including transport, accommodation, food, water and personal hygiene requirements for the team in order that they can comfortably survive for two months in the desert. Additional consideration has been necessary to maintain British Health and Safety standards throughout plus insurances, first aid provision and vehicular site access .

Project Summery 

beginning with a simple form representing a strand of DNA, then over a two month period evolving the technique to achieve a full size, standing human figure.
The technique will be to encourage a charge of lightning through a heated container of sand housing an earthed copper wire sculpture of pre-determined form. This will be achieved by launching a rocket, trailing a fine Kevlar sleeved copper wire into a charged cloud, the resultant discharge will be grounded through the sculpture, fusing the silica sand at temperatures of around 30,000 degrees centigrade ( 50000 degree fahrenheit ), creating the sculpture in approximately one second.

The location is vital and after extensive research, considering sociological, political, legal and logistical factors as well as the obvious meteorological conditions required i.e. guaranteed lightning storms, the settings of New Mexico or Arozona during the months of July and August 2015 are considered the most favorable.

The team will camp on location and set up two 22" (6.7 meter) hardwood towers with a rocket platform on top and a strike chamber platform around six feet from the ground. The use of two towers will allow alternation and the possibility of a lightning strike sculpture being created each evening, weather permitting.

The ultimate aim of the project will be to exhibit the sculptures but also to document the process and the journey myself and team travel in order to make the worlds first attempt to harness the natural energy of lightning to create a successful body of sculptural art.

There are two books planned to share the knowledge gleaned by the project. The first will be an illustrated volume 100 pages long and will take the form of a 30cm x 30cm hard back limited (1600) edition 100 of which will be donated to relevant university libraries globally.

The second book will take longer to complete and will focus on the technical aspects of the artistic endeavour, containing details and photographs of the exhibited sculptures and is envisaged as a research aid for other artists considering similar forays into working with the planets energies to produce art.

Collaborating on this project are John Chiles, a leading furnace designer, glass technologist and artist, advising on kiln design also the evolution of technique, Thomas McNally, project photographer, whose work will feature in both of the planned publications and Sarah Blood of Alfred University who will be assisting in filling the completed fulgurite sculptures with neon gas in order for them to be internally lit. Sarah will hopefully visit and create with this project in mind.


               Fulgurite tube, natural formed.


The Team.

The team consists of myself, Project manager and Artist, driver, Stephen Beardsell BA(hons)MA.

John Chiles, Hub consolidated, glass and furnace expert, consultant driver.

Richard Reed, Rope access and Site logistics, second driver.


Peter Staves, Rope access, Health and Safety and off road driver.

Tom McNally BA(hons) Project photographer, Second off road driver, Field first aid.

Art and Concept

Current evolutionary studies have suggested that the confluence of lightning and gasses from volcanic eruptions were the factors responsible for the first spark of life on planet Earth.

Electrical fields are inherent in all living beings we are aware of ranging from the most minute micro-organisms right through to Earth itself.

Conceptually the project was inspired by the idea that the natural energy of lightning created the first stepping stone of life on Earth. Initial forms, based on the DNA double helix will be followed by the creation of single cell structures, these may then be amalgamated into sculptures made up of several individual cells, finally the aim will be to create life sized human forms.

As fulgurite formation naturally entails a hollow core there may be an opportunity to exhibit the finished sculptures filled with neon gas enabling them to be lit internally or even pulsate as if alive.



                                             Sand and glue drawing, fulgurite DNA strand.

Further evolution of the technique, to advance the artistic productivity of this body of sculpture.

With the addition of oxides commonly used to create coloured glass and glaze, I beleave it will be posable to mix small amounts of oxides with silica sand , fill the strike chamber with this mix to achieve a more diverse colour range of fulgurite quartz sculpture.

This in mind will allow me to create a standing human form with Sedimentation, not unlike the bands found in a DNA test. I would like to have my own DNA strand developed then layer the sand around the wire human form in the sequence of bands, the finished sculptural figure should have the DNA bands running from the top of the head to the base of the feet.


The  Strike Towers

 The towers will be constructed using hardwood and held together using hardwood pegs, this traditional method of construction will ensure that there are no conductive materials used. Additionally the strike rod will be held in position using 8 high voltage insulators which will protect the tower from the lightning as all wood retains some moisture which, if unprotected, could earth a charge of lightning.

During July and August 2015 there are expected to be strong winds and heavy rain in New Mexico and Arizona so the towers will be securely tethered. There will be provision for a water-proofing system to keep the project dry and allow rockets to be safely launched. It may even be possible to launch the rockets from ground level thereby eliminating any danger.
Each tower will have two platforms, the higher of which will be where the rockets, trailing kevlar sleeved copper wire, are launched from. The copper wire will be attached to the top of a copper strike rod, suspended in the centre of the tower, and thence to the strike chamber which will be resting on the second, lower platform and pre-heated by the use of clam kilns which will be removed prior to the launch of the rocket.


                      lightning strike tower, model,Oak.


As you can see in the above image there are now 2 kilns, one on top of the other, designed to interlock in the same manner as the strike chambers which will be heated inside the clam kilns. As the project evolves the plan is to stack three inter-locked clam kilns producing a maximum kiln height of three meters creating the potential for 2.5m high sculptures which may actually require more than one strike!


Running under each tower will be a wooden rail track carrying two 45 gallon steel drums atop a heat proof cart. After the lightning has struck the un-fused silica sand will be drained into the steel drums allowing the resulting quartz sculpture to remain in situ for annealing whilst the remaining sand can be efficiently removed.


                    Strike chamber inside clam kiln, housing silica sand, model.


 The Strike Chamber

The strike chamber will house the wire sculpture encapsulated by silica sand, the material being used to construct the chamber will have to be able to withstand being heated to 800 degrees centigrade, exposed to the environment as the conductive kilns are removed and the monumental force of a lightning strike passes through it, then withstand further heating to 1215 degrees centigrade in order to anneal the sculpture inside.

The chamber has been designed with all of these conditions in mind, it will be cast from a mix of refectory cement, pearlite, porcelain slip , and sand. It is important for the chamber to be pre-fired before operation and the chambers are not expected to withstand the force of too many strikes, with this in mind the rubber mold required to produce more will be on site in order to cast new ones before they`re needed.

The chambers design incorporates the ability to stack them on top of each other, allowing taller sculptures to be created as the project moves along. The outer surface of each chamber will be honeycombed allowing it to heat more efficiently, in addition the external honeycombed feature will lend greater structural integrity. The inner surface will be smooth and lined with fibre blanket in order to absorb the shock produced by the strike.


 strike chamber,  1mx 80cm                                interlocking system



The technical information.

A small rocket trailing a kevlar sleeved copper wire will earth the lightning strike to the conductor on the top of the tower.

A lightning strike is expected to reach 30000 degrees centigrade (50000 degree Fahrenheit).

The forms will be made from copper wire, silver wire and gold wire.

Quarts sand melts at a temperature of 2000 degrees centigrade.

The annealing temperature of quartz is 1215 degrees centigrade, annealing the quartz glass makes it safe, also the form will remain whole.

The more controllable method is a small rocket launched into a charged cloud trailing a kevlar sleeved copper wire, this is a proven method, it works by earthing the static energy, the lightning follows the wire down to earth, this will allow a controlled strike when and where we are ready.

The main factors determining the design of the rocket used for this project were the altitude needed to attract the lightning and the weight of the wire , with these factors in mind the appropriate rocket motor will be installed to power the rocket.

 Lightning has been attracted as low as 300m, the average point of attraction seems to be 700m to be sure of attraction, we will use rockets with a altitude of 1000m included in this is 1000m of spooled wire, so what we are looking at is a rocket rated for 1000m, a motor rated for the weight of wire also the fuel .

To see rocket trigger lightning ,  search Google for rocket triggered lightning and follow the links to  watch the technique in action.


Wire conductive forms.
The operational expectations of these metals as the basis of conductive forms will influence the lightning formed sculptures with traces of colour. In the glass industry blue/green glass is formed by the addition of copper, yellow is achieved with the influence of silver and red/pink by introducing gold.

 Copper wire DNA form , Stephen Beardsell


Removal of sand and annealing the sculpture. 

Once the lightning strike has followed the wire sculpture through the heated silica sand and the predetermined fulgurite form has been achieved, the removal of a ceramic plug on the base of the strike chamber will allow the loose sand to decant into the steel drums under the tower, the fused quartz glass sculpture will remain in the strike chamber, this will allow the sculpture to be heated more efficiently to the annealing temperature then cooled and removed, 18-30 hours, if the loose sand remained, the time to anneal the sculpture would be much greater, 5-6 days.
This body of sculpture reflects the natural creative charges in the method of its production.

Living quarters

 One of the most important issues with the project will be general living conditions for the team. The camp site will consist of bell tents with removable sides to reduce the heat of the day and create shade. In addition the tent site will need to be shaded, with the use of suspended ex-military parachutes.


       Bell tent, removable sides.


To aid in hygiene the site will have solar showers and portable toilets (the toilets will be located on the perimeter of the site, down wind). Water will be contained on a trailer tanker, this will enable ease of refilling, and food will be cooked on site, also sourced locally, food will be kept fresh contained in a gas powered refrigerator Electricity will be provided by a small generator located as far away from site as possible (reducing the noise on site).
The importance of good, clean shaded living space will aid in good site moral, further aiding the success of the project.
I am hoping to cover the site with satellite enabled internet, this will allow me to keep a project blog and send video and photos to my team based in the UK, enabling them the work with the footage producing the books and a documentary film. This will also mean that the team, and any visitors will have direct access to family and friends elsewhere, again aiding in site moral.
The living site will be protected with a large Faraday cage, this will be achieved by several lightning conductor rods being placed around the perimeter of camp, also connected by steel cable networked through an eye at the top of each rod. the cables will run over the site aiding in the protection of the site from rogue lightning.

Profiles of the team.

                             Tom McNally, Photography



Tom McNally is an award winning landscape photographer based in the heart of The English Lake District. As a graduate and fellow of the Contemporary Photographic Practice course at Northumbria University, his apprenticeship was thorough, having spent years perfecting his craft in the red light of the darkroom.
With a background in documentary, his work is produced to exacting technical standards
Tom now specialises in making landscape, travel and documentary images for a range of clients. The landscape of The Lake District is a constant inspiration and Tom spends as much time on the local fells, lakes and rivers with his camera as possible.
Alongside his photographic career, Tom also works as an outdoor instructor, expedition leader and rescue technician.
He has led trips from the high altitude of the Himalayas to the jungles of Central America. He is also a member of Keswick Mountain Rescue Team, and his qualifications in casualty care and off road driving further broaden the skills of The Lightning Project team

                    Buachaille Etive Mor, Tom McNally.

I strive to capture that special, often very brief moment when different components of the landscape harmonise to produce a scene that is genuinely breathtaking. My work with Stephen and his lightning project typifies this. Documenting our interaction with these immense forces of nature is something I am very excited about.

                                      Richy Reed


Richy Reed is an experienced climbing instructor with SPA and rope access qualifications.  Richy has worked as a climbing instructor for the last 10 years, having fallen in love with the outdoors and climbing in particular as a child.  His passion has taken him to the Dolomites, the French Alps, Pyrenees and Norway amongst other places where he has gained experience in many different climbing techniques and styles.  When based in the UK , Richy can often be found in the Lake District , pursuing his passion for the mountains.

His most recent trip to Norway involved ice climbing in Rjukan so he is looking forward to the contrast of the desert.

Richy's skills in rope access will be vital for safely securing the wooden towers that will contain the lightening conductor as well as other critical elements of the project.  Richy has worked with indoor climbing walls in the UK , building and managing logistics which has involved the safe transportation of large structures, leading projects to relocate and ensure the safe use of complex kit.

Richy hopes that his wide variety of skills and experience in rope work and logistics will be of benefit to the project and will contribute to it's success.


                                      Pete Staves.


Peter's role will be in project support where his extensive expedition
and overlanding experience will enable the smooth running of the day to
day challenges provided by a remote and sometimes hostile environment.
Arborist, geotechnical rope access technician, and overland truck
driver/leader, are the ways he has funded his passion for the outdoor
life, and he is as likely to be found swimming after his canoe in
lakeland rivers as gibbering his way up classic rock climbing testpieces
in the UK or abroad. A lover of cold places he awaits the desert with


under construction.....still more to add......regards..Stephen........