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Wimshurst Machine FAQs

The Wimshurst Machine:

The Wimshurst machine is a member of electric generators cum influential machines that work to separate electric charges through an intricate process known as electrostatic induction as opposed friction devices Benjamin Franklin championed.

Developed by James Wimshurst in the 1880's as an improvement over existing machines of the day, it soon became commonplace in every electrical research lab of the day. The Wimshurst's beautiful aesthetics make it very distinctive among other electrostatic generators.


The Wimshurst machine’s iconic structure consists of two neutralizing crossbars fitted with brushes, two contra-rotatingwheels of large diameter embedded on a vertical axis, 4 charge collection brushes; both front, back, left and right of the centerline of each axis almost always connected to twocharge collecting capacitors known as Leyden jars. Other features include two spherical terminals which make the spark gap, and a simple pulley system.

How the Wimshurst Machine Sparks:

Although simple theoritically, each component must precisely engage the others in a beautifully choreorgaphed motion for the desired result...static:

  • A Wimshurst machine is often designed with an even number of metal sectors on each disc. Sectored Wimshurst machines are typically easier to maintain and start than sectorless ones (Bonneti machines). These two contra-rotating discs are usually made of acrylic, but historically have been constructed of varnished glass or vulcanized hard rubber. An equal and opposite charge is induced or influenced in each of the machine’s contra-rotating discs, greatly adding to efficiency over other electrostatic machines.
  • When the charges have been induced, a neutralization  and collection process commences to keep each side of the Wimshurst’s two discs oppositely charged, allowing the collection brushes to transport positive and negative charges to the Leyden jar collection system.
  • Gathering of the charges, then increases with rise in positive feedback simultaneously until the dielectric breakdown voltage of the surrounding air is attained producing a resultant electric spark. Remember, Wimshurst machine works with induction and doesn't depend on friction.

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