Common Ground: Flames and Electricity
Power. It’s a word with a multitude of meanings. When using it you might be referring to a physical unit of work per unit time, a mathematical exponent or the ability to exert influence over a given entity.
Hell, you could be making a joke about the losing streak of the Adelaide football team.
In the current age of technology, however, by far the most common use of the word is as a measure of electrical current. Electricity powers our homes, keeps us warm, provides light for our streets and cooks our meals. It has been perhaps the sole driving force behind the advances in computation, medicine, refrigeration, industrial production, space exploration, transportation and just about every other technological step forward you care to name over the past hundred years.
Similarly to electricity, there is another naturally occurring phenomenon that once lifted us to a new level of defensive and supportive capability as a species. Fire; the harnessing of which kept us warm, provided light and cooked our meals in much the same way as the use of electricity does now.
So what do an electric current and a flame have in common? The answer is in the electrons.
Transferral of charge is the crucial common element linking these two energy sources. The difference is that electricity involves the movement of negatively charged electrons, whereas a flame consists of the dispersal of both positive and negative ions. So we can sort of think of fire as the mirror image of electricity; the medium of one is shifting in the other and vice versa.
This relationship between electricity and fire makes for a couple of intriguing characteristics when they’re brought together. We all know that magnetic and electric fields are closely interconnected, but did you know that you can influence the behaviour of a blaze with a strong enough magnet?
The following video by ‘Veritasium’ demonstrates beautifully the ionic nature of a flame, identifying that the negative and positive components of both the fire and the remaining smoke are attracted to opposite ends of a magnetic field.
The video also rather dramatically highlights another fascinating aspect of the electricity-fire relationship, which is that the ions in the flame cause that region of space to be more electrically conductive than the surrounding (non-ionized) air.
Wait, fire can conduct electricity? Woah.