Static Energy (31)

1 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-16 14:53 ID:d1N8CcuJ
"SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian man built up a 40,000-volt charge of static electricity in his clothes as he walked, leaving a trail of scorched carpet and molten plastic and forcing firefighters to evacuate a building.

Frank Clewer, who was wearing a woolen shirt and a synthetic nylon jacket, was oblivious to the growing electrical current that was building up as his clothes rubbed together.

When he walked into a building in the country town of Warrnambool in the southern state of Victoria Thursday, the electrical charge ignited the carpet."

""We tested his clothes with a static electricity field meter and measured a current of 40,000 volts, which is one step shy of spontaneous combustion, where his clothes would have self-ignited," Barton said."

2 Name: !WAHa.06x36 2005-09-16 18:03 ID:QPMiyxDL

Firefighters have "static electricity field meters" now? I call total bullshit. 40kV is a lot for static electricity (if we can trust this number to be anything but made up), but it's still only about five or so times more than what would normally occur. If somebody had installed carpets that ignite from static electricity sparks, the firemen would be pulling up the carpets, not taking some guy's jacket.

3 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-16 19:47 ID:d1N8CcuJ

I don't know much about Australia, but...
Aren't firefighters sometimes called to check on EMF emissions?
What about equipment to locate hidden power lines?
I bet that sometimes laying water may be in contact with a power line, firefighters would benefit if they had equipment for detecting such. They probably have radiation detectors too, and a slew of other ones.
From what I saw, an EMF meter is only a tiny little box anyway, easy to pocket and carry. Or is an EMF meter not the same as a static electricity field meter?

4 Name: !WAHa.06x36 2005-09-16 22:07 ID:QPMiyxDL

No, an EMF meter would detect various radio-frequency oscillating fields, while a device for detecting power lines would detect low-frequency osciallating fields. Neither would notice a static field at all, and much less measure the field strength. Besides, the field is measured in volts per meter, and to find the potential difference (not current, you idiotic journalist) causing the field would require knowledge of the extent of the field.

Measuring the potential of a static charge directly by conventional means is also nearly impossible, since the charge is so tiny, it would be depleted before the meter could register it. This is also why static electricity doesn't start fires - there's hardly any energy at all in it, even if the potential difference is fairly high. The only way a static charge, even if it was ten times stronger than usual, would ignite a carpet is if it was soaked in gasoline.

5 Name: !WAHa.06x36 2005-09-16 22:47 ID:QPMiyxDL

Looking at all the mentions of this on Google News indicates all the news stories are just quoting the same original articles, confusing the details in different ways. The sequence of events keeps changing from one to the other, and the actions of the people involved... Maybe they're all just quoting the same prank article, or something. I haven't been able to determine which one is the original, though.

6 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-17 02:11 ID:d1N8CcuJ

Here is a slightly different spin, from an .au newspaper:
"Scientist Karl Kruszelnicki says it is likely the electrical build-up was caused by a number of factors, such as the synthetic clothes the man was wearing.

"This poor guy has built up static electricity thanks to an unfortunate combination of insulating clothes that he's wearing, static, synthetic clothes, just walking along and he's just building up this static charge everywhere," Dr Kruszelnicki said.

"I've read of it but I've never heard of it here in Australia."

The CFA has Mr Clewer's jacket and says it is continuing to give off voltage."

7 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-17 02:15 ID:d1N8CcuJ

Another .au:,5936,16628269%255E1702,00.html
"Authorities later tested his polar-fleece jacket using a device that measures static electricity, and said the dial initially went off the scale before settling on a figure greater than 30,000 volts."

"Fire authorities evacuated three buildings and began cutting into the carpet at the employment centre yesterday afternoon, believing wires in the ground were on fire.
"But there was no wires there, and the carpet wasn't scorched on the underside - just on the surface," Warrnambool Country Fire Authority (CFA) leading fire fighter Troy Cleverley said. "

"Mr Clewer solved the mystery after he returned to his car and noticed the plastic on the floor had melted.
"As he got out of the car there was this loud bang again, and that was when he realised it was him," Mrs Clewer said.
Mr Clewer was left with just a small scorch mark hole in his jeans. "

"Mr Cleverley said Mr Clewer was not injured because the electricity had very low amperage.
"Everywhere he had walked in the building he had left a burn mark," he said.
"Every two steps there was a burn mark in the carpet.
"In my experience, I haven't heard about anyone carrying that much charge to be able to scorch carpet - let alone not being able to feel it." "

8 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-17 02:20 ID:d1N8CcuJ,5478,16627614%255E2862,00.html
"Officers ordered a stunned Mr Clewer to strip, and used a static electricity monitoring device to measure the electric current in his clothes.

They were astounded to discover the static charge in his polyester jacket, which was worn with a woollen shirt, registered 36,000 volts. "

9 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-17 02:30 ID:d1N8CcuJ
"staff noticed burn marks the size of ten cent pieces on the carpet and called the fire brigade."

"Mr Clewer was given overalls to wear as fire officers used a device to check static electricity on him and his belongings.

The device measured a remarkable 30,000 volts on a synthetic zip-up jacket Mr Clewer had been wearing under a woollen jacket."

10 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-17 02:34 ID:d1N8CcuJ
"David Gosden, a lecturer in electrical engineering at Sydney University, said that for a static electricity charge to ignite a carpet, conditions had to be perfect.

"Static electricity is a similar mechanism to lightning, where you have clouds rubbing together and then a spark generated by very dry air above them," he said."

11 Name: 2005-09-17 10:25 ID:Heaven

I only just noticed this on the news this evening... the local news was claiming he generated 3.8Kv or some insane number. Crazy.

12 Name: !WAHa.06x36 2005-09-17 12:34 ID:QPMiyxDL

You'll notice the sequence of events varies wildly between the stories. Some of the claims are even more ridiculous than igniting carpets. Melting plastic? You need a lot of energy to do that. If you were carrying that much energy on you as a static electric charge, it would probably kill you outright. A mere 40kV static charge is many orders of magnitudes short of what you'd need.

It's either a prank or a wildly misinterpreted story, being mindlessly copied by journalists who think it's a funny story and aren't doing the tiniest bit of fact-checking.

13 Name: 2005-09-17 12:52 ID:Heaven

> Melting plastic? You need a lot of energy to do that.

Cigarette lighters seem to hold a fuckload of energy then ;)

14 Name: !WAHa.06x36 2005-09-17 13:32 ID:QPMiyxDL


They contain quite a bit. If we assume they contain 1 ml of propane, that's 20 kilojoules.

Slashdot reported on the story, and even they wouldn't fall for it, no matter how dumb stories they've been publishing with a straight face lately. Somebody also points out that >>9 seems to be the original story, and it does look a bit less incoherent than the others, but no less unbelievable.

15 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-17 14:34 ID:d1N8CcuJ

Now THIS is shitty reporting:
"Aussie Frank Clewer built up a 40,000-volt charge of static electricity in his clothes as he walked, and was close to exploding in flames, officials reveal.

"We tested his clothes with a static electricity field meter and measured a current of 40,000 volts, which is one step shy of spontaneous combustion," marvelled Henry Barton, a fire official in the town of Warrnambool in Victoria state.

As it was, Sparky Clewer's highly charged frame left a trail of scorched carpet and molten plastic in a building, which firefighters were then forced to evacuate."

16 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-17 14:39 ID:d1N8CcuJ

The Times-Picayune (of New Orleans fame) reposts that calls to the Country Fire Authority rang unanswered Friday evening. I guess we'll have to wait till Monday.

17 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-17 14:44 ID:d1N8CcuJ

>>16 s/reposts/reports

18 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-17 15:16 ID:d1N8CcuJ

19 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-17 15:21 ID:d1N8CcuJ

"Re:Static Electricity Field Meter? (Score:2)

"Do a google search for "electrostatic voltmeter". It's an optional mode for voltmeters to detect high voltages. There's at least one company which makes such a device Multi Function Digital Voltmeter [] which goes up to 500 KiloVolts."

from the slashdot discussion

20 Name: !WAHa.06x36 2005-09-17 15:32 ID:QPMiyxDL


What, is somebody actually trying to do fact-checking? Unheard of!


"Multi-Function Digital Voltmeter chinatech" (which is what they call it - no other product designation that I can find) gets 8 Google hits. I don't think your average australian fireman will be carrying one of those.

That's not to say I don't want one. That shit seems way cool.

21 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-09-20 14:19 ID:whczNzlo
"A PIECE of scorched carpet which caused the evacuation of three central Warrnambool businesses last week will be sent to Sydney University for analysis."

"Mr Clewer and WFB officer-in-charge Henry Barton said the incident had sparked an international media frenzy. Many people have contacted The Standard with theories about the build-up of static electricity in Mr Clewer's clothes. Debate is raging"

"Mr Barton said he also received inquiries from the Alfred Hospital, which was interested in the case and the types of materials Mr Clewer was wearing in case it was of use in the treatment of divers suffering the bends using a hyperbaric chamber."

22 Name: Mad Scientist 2005-11-02 09:35 ID:G/fEUcam

Anyone else find this not too surprising? I mean, truth be told static electricity is nothing but a bolt of lighting really tiny like, which if I recall can easily be 10,000v. (c'mon, if its high enough to ionize the air between you and the area around you, its pretty high).

23 Name: !WAHa.06x36 2005-11-02 13:42 ID:HixYIzb9


You'll only find it "not too surprising" if you know nothing at all about electricity. The whole story is 100% bullshit, any electrical engineer or physicist will tell you the same.

24 Name: Mad Scientist 2005-11-06 23:50 ID:Heaven

...and I believe one just did!

25 Name: Mad Scientist 2005-12-07 20:39 ID:72XV7STH

>"We tested his clothes with a static electricity field meter and measured a current of 40,000 volts, which is one step shy of spontaneous combustion, where his clothes would have self-ignited," Barton said."

It's been a while since I've been to physics classes, so I might be wrong, but I do remember quite clearly that with static electricity, you don't get currents unless you connect directly to the source of this electricity. Also, I am quite sure that currents are measured in Amperes. not Volts.

One final comment on the static electricity, It is possible for a person to hold 40 kV while being completely oblivious about it, because nothing happens unless it suddenly finds a channel to flow somewhere.

26 Name: Sling!XD/uSlingU 2005-12-07 21:10 ID:q/VJRY2E

>>25 Correct.

27 Name: !WAHa.06x36 2005-12-09 15:32 ID:Heaven


The articles on this incident are so confused (I'm being generous here), that it's not really fair to refute any of the direct statements in them.

28 Name: Mad Scientist 2005-12-09 15:57 ID:CXEqJSof

>>27 do you think there is a point to discuss physical phenomena when sources are so ambiguous that not even the units of measurements can be trusted?

More interesting is then the question of why every now and then there are media hypes such as this one, and even better, how to detect whether it is a scam or not.

29 Name: !WAHa.06x36 2005-12-09 16:01 ID:Heaven


Er, what did I just say in >>27, in your mind?

30 Name: Mad Scientist 2005-12-14 13:47 ID:xa/C7KCl

>>29 it says in 27 that

>it's not really fair to refute any of the direct statements in them.

Which leaves unclear whether you would like to rant on about phantasies of superduper static electricity, or rather talk about what is physically possible.

Srry, I don't know !Waha.06x36 very well, since I'm new here. Please don't think anyone would recognize your cynicism.

31 Name: !WAHa.06x36 2005-12-14 15:21 ID:Heaven


Er, I though I made this clear enough, but I'll restate that:

Statements like "40000 volts of current" are just the stupid mistakes of journalists writing about something they have no clue about. So correcting that statement says nothing about the actual event, and is just about some journalist being out of their water. Thus, it is neither interesting nor enlightening to do so.

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