Student study investigates how lasers can control lightning

Physics students from the Department of Physics and Astronomy have investigated the possibility of inducing, directing and controlling lightning strikes using lasers.

In a paper for the Journal of Physics Special Topics titled “Light-ning Rod”, Ben Woodward, Francis Davies and Sabahuddin Humayun have proposed the possibility of using high powered laser beams as lightning conductors. These lasers could artificially trigger lightning during a thunderstorm before it naturally strikes.

In the paper they discuss how air can be ionised using lasers in order to provide a conducting path for a lightning strike. The fact that lightning, like any other form of electricity, will always follow a path of least resistance is used to control where and when it will strike. Lasers are used to ionise air tracks which are used as the path of least resistance.

Shockingly, by using this method, lightning strikes can be induced at a desired time, along a desired path before their natural occurrence. The students suggest that this approach could save lives and money in potential repairs - and the power of lightning bolts could then be harnessed for other purposes.

The students conclude that current technology is fully capable of achieving this feat. However, this approach would be highly impractical due to requirements only met by laboratory grade lasers which are extremely expensive and enormous in size and maintenance needs.