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Benjamin Franklin's Invention May Finally Be Replaced

When Benjamin Franklin fashioned the first lightning rod in the 1750s following his famous experiment flying a kite with a key attached during a thunderstorm, the American inventor had no way of knowing this would remain the state of the art for centuries.

Painting of Benjamin Franklin's lightning kite experiment
Credit: The Franklin Institute

Lightning rods, dating back to Franklin's time, are metal rods atop buildings, connected to the ground with a wire, that conduct electric charges from lightning strikes harmlessly into the ground.

Scientists are now endeavouring to improve on that 18th century innovation with 21st century technology - a system employing a high-powered laser that may revolutionize lightning protection, reports Reuters. Researchers say they have succeeded in using a laser aimed at the sky from atop Mount Santis in northeastern Switzerland to divert lightning strikes.

This concept, first proposed in the 1970s, has worked in laboratory conditions, but until now not in the field.

With further development, this Laser Lightning Rod could safeguard critical infrastructure including power stations, airports, wind farms and launchpads. That's potentially very good news as lightning inflicts billions of dollars in damage on buildings, communication systems, power lines and electrical equipment annually while also killing thousands of people.

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