Cardiff’s Lightning Lab stars on Canada’s top science show

13 May 2015

Dr Daniel Mitchard & Jennifer Gardy in the Morgan-Botti Lightning Laboratory

A Cardiff University scientist will star on one of Canada's top science TV shows to explain what happens when inflight aircraft are struck by lightning.

Dr Daniel Mitchard, a senior researcher at the Morgan-Botti Lightning Laboratory, met with Jennifer Gardy, one of the hosts of the long-running CBC science show 'The Nature of Things' during two days of filming. Jennifer asked Dan to explain what happens to aeroplanes when lightning strikes.

Daniel said: "The programme wanted to explore some of the myths about extreme weather, including lightning, so Jennifer came to Wales to find out how our amazing lightning facility works. We use several banks of very large capacitors to generate the same amount of lightning energy in a fraction-of-a-second (around 200 microseconds) as a nuclear power plant outputs in the same amount of time. We can generate 'worst case' lightning strikes up to 200,000 Amps which is much larger than natural lightning strikes which tend to be around 30,000 Amps."

Lightning strikes to commercial aircraft happen, on average, once per year, often because an aircraft flying through an area of high charge initiates the lightning itself.

Dan added: "All aircraft are designed to withstand lightning strikes and have electrically conducting structures built into the aircraft skin which act as a 'Faraday Cage', directing the lightning charge around and away from the aircraft keeping it safe. Older aircraft were made of metal and so could do this very efficiently, but modern aircraft use a large amount of non-conducting composite components and so a copper mesh is added to protect the aeroplane - We demonstrated to Jennifer how this mesh works and how it keeps planes safe."

Much of the research at the Morgan-Botti Lightning Laboratory focusses on understanding lightning and improving lightning protection systems for future aircraft designs, which they do in partnership with the Airbus Group.

The programme is due to air on CBC around Christmas 2015.

More details about the Morgan-Botti Lightning Laboratory can be found at http://lightning.engineering.cf.ac.uk/ or you can contact Dr Daniel Mitchard at mitcharddr@cf.ac.uk