If you are a fan of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, you will recall the scene where Dave sets up a Tesla coil after which, he and Becky step inside a chain-link Faraday box and get 'hit' by powerful electric currents that magically seem to zap right through them. That is exactly what American illusionist and endurance artist David Blaine did this month for his latest stunt that he fittingly called 'Electrified - One million watts always on'.
On Friday, October 5th, the 39-year old daredevil arrived at New York City's pier 54, dressed in a 12.25 kg chain mail Faraday body suit and helmet, both designed to conduct electricity. Then putting on a visor to protect his eyes from the ultraviolet radiation emitted by the arching electricity and noise-cancelling earphones so that he could hear over the currents and communicate with his fans, he took his position atop a 6-meter high platform that would be his home for the next three days and nights!
Then the fun began - Seven strategically place metallic orbs fitted with Tesla coils created an artificial lightning storm, crackling out millions of volts of low currents, with David standing right in the center. What was even more impressive is that the sound and light intensity of the currents emanated by the Tesla coils was being controlled by the public via laptops that had been set up at the pier by the main sponsor of the event, Intel Corporation. And if that was not bad enough, the more people that tweeted during the three day period, the higher the intensity of the coil became!
Of course, David is all about endurance too - Therefore, he stood there being zapped by the million-volt Tesla coils for three whole days and nights - with no sleep and no food. The only thing he consumed during the entire time was water that he sucked up through a tube.
Shortly after 9.00pm on Monday October 8th, the spectacular show came to an end. While David was a little weak probably from the lack of food and sleep, he managed to step down the platform on his own strength and even say a few words to his loyal fans before being whisked to the hospital for a full body check up, to ensure that he was completely okay.
This is not the first time the Brooklyn man has wowed the world with his endurance stunts. In 2000 he encased himself inside a block of ice in New York for almost 64 minutes. In 2002 he stood unharnessed for 35 hours above a 100 ft. high, 22 inch pillar in New York's Bryant Park and a year later suspended himself in a box over London's River Thames for 44 days, with no food and only 4.5 liters of water. But even he admits that the latest 'Electrified' show has to be one of the craziest ones he has ever dreamt up.
And, while he attests that this was his last 'endurance' stunt, it certainly was not his last stunt ever - For clues on what's next, he is hinting at names like Steve Brodie who in the 1880's claimed to have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and survived and Harry Houdini the magician, best known for his sensational escape acts. Knowing David he will probably combine a couple of these amazing feats!
As for why the daredevil would even contemplate such an experiment. The artist says its stems from his desire to arouse in kids the same wonder, fascination and curiosity about science and art that was aroused in him by his mother, when he was young - For believe it or not, while David standing amidst all these electric currents may seem magical and even inhuman, the whole event was an experiment in science. Here, is how he was able to walk virtually un-zapped after his 72-hour ordeal.
His stainless-steel chain mail suit was a clever adaptation of the principle of the Faraday cage - Made of highly conductive material it shields whatever is inside, in this case David, from an electric field. It was in fact very similar to what workers fixing high-voltage power lines wear. Therefore, what was happening was that all the electricity was just being conducted or going through the suit - None of it was going through his body.
As for the voltage? While it sounds really high, experts say it is the strength of the current (or amps) that makes electricity deadly - Since the Tesla coil produces very low current, they are not dangerous. So all in all, the stunt was relatively 'safe', as long as, all the equipment, including Blaine's protective suit worked as it was supposed to.
In fact Columbia University physicist William Allen Zaic was more impressed by the fact that he had the energy to just stand there for 72 hours rather than the fact that he got zapped by lightning bolts! But, what he was most impressed by was the fact that David is making physics exciting for kids!