Fear of Electricity

I live in fear of electricity. This is rather an odd thing for an electronics guy like me. I won’t touch any circuit over 24 volts, no matter if it is powered off. This is not some irrational fear, it is a fear born of extensive experience being electrocuted.

I still vividly remember my first experience with electrocution, I must have been about ten years old. I attended an ancient junior high school with an amazing collection of antique scientific apparatus. Every day after school, the science teacher set up the next day’s experiments for the senior class, I discovered that I could sneak into the lab after he left and fool around with the equipment, and nobody ever knew I was there. One day I came in and a Wimshurst Generator was set up. Wimshurst generators are a demonic device designed to store static electricity in primitive capacitors. You crank on the handle, the discs spin and store the electricity in Leyden Jars. You can set the electrodes to repeatedly discharge little lightning bolts, if you put them close together they zap frequently, if you set them far apart they store up a larger charge and zap less frequently. Of course I had to put the electrodes as far apart as possible and see how big a charge I could store, and how big a lightning bolt I could create. Of course, not being scheduled to take this science class for another 2 years, I did not know the safety precautions. If you try a stunt like this, you’re supposed to push the electrodes together using a nonconductive wood or rubber rod. I did exactly what you’re never supposed to do, I used both hands to move the electrodes together simultaneously. I bridged the circuit with my hands and body, the last thing I remember was seeing a lightning bolt jump towards my fingers. I woke up on the floor several feet away from where I was standing, it was dark and I must have been unconscious for several hours. I did some calculations and I figure I must have been hit with at least 45,000 volts. Fortunately it was low amperage, or I would be dead. Two years later, when the device was demonstrated in class, I learned I had violated the “one hand rule,” if you work with high voltage circuits, you should keep one hand in your pocket, to prevent yourself from bridging the circuit with both hands, just as I had done.

My science teacher was an eccentric old guy with white hair and moustache, he was the spitting image of Albert Einstein. He taught me more about science than anyone else, but not through the classroom, he gave me all his old scientific apparatus catalogs. Many of the experiments were considered obsolete because they used hazardous or illegal chemicals, like the lysergic acid I found in the storeroom. I could probably demonstrate hundreds of dangerous experiments, I’ll do about any harebrained chemical experiment, but I just won’t touch electricity, it’s too dangerous.

One thought on “Fear of Electricity”

  1. I couldn’t agree more:-
    Despite a Degree in Physics & Electrical Engineering & working as a Communications Systems Engineer, I stick strictly to the Low Voltage stuff.
    As a inquisitive teenager I once absent-mindedly touched the pins of an open light socket.
    (I’ve also stared down the barrel of a pellet gun, whilst slowly pulling the trigger in an attempt to fathom out the mechanism – the pellet did – fortuitously – just miss my right eye )
    Of course I should have known better in both cases, but it’s that passionate sense of enquiry that can sometimes overtake all our other senses.
    Ever since we were reminded at our office – that the only person qualified to wire-a-plug was the site-handyman – I’ve steered well clear of the potentially painful stuff.
    Since then the EC have introduced the Low Voltage Directive – ostensibly to protect the public & consumers from harmful contact with electricity – but it relies on the industry defining & segregating electrical stuff into different hazard classes – and isolating one from the other – and this has proved very helpful in identifying what I should & shouldn’t be working on.
    …. while the absent-mindedness is perhaps my only credible qualification as any kind of scientist.

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