Getting a charge out of sculpture!

Getting a charge out of sculpture!

This is a project from long ago that is worthwhile checking in on. It was built when I was a project manager for a marine building company and employs design techniques I still use today. So let’s just see how successful it has been.

The project is by the then living, Roy Lichtenstein, and is located in Singapore SG, which also happens to be the lightning strike capital of the world!

See: http://mothership.sg/2016/05/singapore-is-the-lightning-capital-of-the-world/

Singapore actually has a cadre of city workers whose job is to walk the streets every day and do conductivity testing of the grounding systems of every building. They take their lightning strikes very seriously!

The sculptures are fabricated in Aluminum and stands at 40 feet for the tallest.  Certainly, you would think that a good grounding rod would be installed within the sculpture.
This is where we began to raise eyebrows!  Our marine fabrication experience kicked in and dictated the sculpture should be isolated, NOT grounded.

Adding a grounding rod would easily eliminate any damage caused by a lightning strike, but unfortunately, sets up the sculpture as one part of a battery!

Let’s think about how a battery works.  The process is really simple: two different metals and an electrolyte is all that’s needed.  One metal we’ve provided to the circuit is our aluminum sculpture, the second metal would be the grounding rod, typically made from copper.  And the electrolyte?  Just add rainwater mixed with some good old Singaporean pollutants (plentiful).  We now have a battery!  Electrons (mass) will flow from the least noble metal (which happens to be our sculpture), through the electrolyte, and deposit onto the noblest metal (in this case, the copper grounding rod).  The process of electrons leaving one side of the battery and attaching to the other side is what causes a battery to wear out over time, as the anode is depleted and the cathode is clogged with attaching electrons.

Keep this up for any length of time and there will be no more sculpture to see.  It’s called electrolysis and its caused by galvanic action.  But basically, its just a battery doing it’s job! Not an acceptable solution? Then we must remove one of the 3 things that make a battery.

1.The Sculpture
2.The Rainwater
3.The Grounding rod

Removing number 1 defeats the whole purpose.  Removing number 2 is just not going to happen, or means bringing the sculpture indoors (I did say 40 feet, right?).  Which only leaves us with option number 3, removing the grounding rod!

We not only elected #3, to remove the grounding rod; we also isolated the sculpture with plastic barriers, sleeves, and washers, to prevent even the smallest stray current from doing any of incremental damage to the sculpture on a daily basis.  Isolating the sculpture also makes it much less likely to attract lightning.

And 20 years later the result is? The sculpture has never been victimized by lightning, and there is no sign of even the smallest amount of corrosion by galvanic action to be found.

Marine fabrication skills = Longer lasting sculpture!

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