by Heidi Butler
July 15, 2013
It has been almost 100 years since the French inventor Louis Octave Fauchon-Villeplee unveiled the first electric cannon.
In World War II the Germans hoped to use similar technology to create an anti-aircraft gun, but the machine never got built.
The possibility of designing a device that can launch weapons, rockets or other projectiles without involving gunpowder or other explosive has intrigued scientists ever since.
Enter the U.S. Navy. And Northampton Community College's Engineering Club.
After an embarrassing, expensive and very public false start, in 2008 the Navy unveiled a rail gun with the potential to fire missiles more than 200 miles with near-perfect accuracy.
This spring students in Northampton's Engineering Club set out to create a miniature version. It only took Mitchell Anglemyer, Andrew Koehler, and Ali Abdulhayoglu six weeks to put together their own launcher using a power supply, 4 capacitors, a switch, 2 resistors, an LED (light emitting diode), an SCR (silicon controlled rectifier), and a hand-made coil.
They already had most of the parts. All they had to buy were the capacitors and the SCR. Total cost? Less than $20.
According to club advisor Brett Langley, electrons are put into the capacitors using a power supply or battery. When the switch is thrown, the electrons flow from the capacitors through the coil very rapidly, creating a strong magnetic field that attracts a small object and launches it up to 12 feet.
You can watch how it works in this 5-second video.
Next semester club members hope to tackle some green energy projects and/or to experiment with different energy transmission theories based on concepts proposed by Nikola Tesla.
The club is open to all students who are interested in engineering, not just to engineering majors.
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