In the 1980s, the coolest accessory you could have in your bedroom wasn’t a lava lamp, it was a plasma globe. I can still remember ogling one at the Service Merchandise store in San Angelo; they cost $199, and I had to save up for several months before I could purchase mine.
Before seeing my first globe, I didn’t know anything about plasma; that in “the world of physics it’s also known as the fourth state of matter, and is the closest we can get to “seeing” electricity.” [source] I didn’t know that the “plasma lamp was invented by Nikola Tesla after his experimentation with high frequency currents in an evacuated glass tube for the purpose of studying high voltage phenomena.” or that he had called his invention an Inert Gas Discharge Tube, or that “they later went on to become known as plasma balls, plasma lights, Tesla balls, and luminglas.” [source] I certainly didn’t know that the plasma globe design that I was coveting “was invented during the 1970′s by a MIT student named Bill Parker.” [source]
What I did know was that the beautiful colors made by the electricity flowing through the various inert gasses was like nothing I had ever seen. I liked watching the colorful ribbons of light flow, and I liked touching my finger to the globe — it was sort of an ET moment as the electric finger touched me back. My plasma globe consisted of a roughly 8″ clear glass ball atop a black base; for a time, I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever owned.
Some time ago, plasma night lights became available; I recently received one from Useful Things to review.
There’s not much inside the plastic, just a bulb and an AC wall socket base; they simply need to be screwed together.
A cool thing about the plug is that it can be swiveled 90º to work in vertical or horizontal outlets. It can also be swiveled 180º to work in sockets that were installed in a manner that would cause the bulb to hang upside-down rather than stand upright.
I recently spent a week working in an Austin hotel while Kevin served on a Texas Science textbook review panel; the wall outlets there would have made the night-light hang upside down, so I was glad for the swiveling plug.
Not that hanging upside down kept the plasma from working … =)
That looks better!
A standard plasma lamp device uses an electric current having an oscillating frequency of 35 kilohertz and a voltage ranging from 2 to 5 kilovolts. As the lamp is being powered, the gas mixture inside it is ionized and gives rise to multiple beams of colored light discharges extending from the inner glass orb to the outer glass container. You might have observed how placing your hand on the outer glass shell determines the electric discharge to concentrate in a structure migrating from the inner glass orb to the point of contact between the hand and the glass orb. This is done by altering the high frequency characteristics of the current, meaning that the effect can be obtained with the help on any conductive object placed in the vicinity of the device. [source]
With the plug swiveled so that the bulb could sit upright, I was treated to a miniature light show that would have seemed impossibly magical 25 years ago, much less back in Nikolai Tesla’s time. Needless to say, it has been a big hit with my step-daughters. We turn it on at night and off in the morning, but if you have a darker room that needs “something” … then by all means, leave it on! =)
The Plasma Bulb Night Light is COOL. It’s reasonably priced, easy to operate, and it gives an instant Tesla-approved “wow-factor” to any room; I am tempted to order several more! =)
What I Like: Full size plasma globe effects from a compact night-light; reasonably priced; instant coolness with a side of “wow”
What Needs Improvement: Nothing