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38 Things to love about Alabama: The Van De Graaff Generator

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Well isn’t that just fitting
Museum of Science

Is there really anything more Alabama than blowing things up, making bright flashes, and winding up with all your hair standing on end?

Of course not, and that’s why Robert Jemison Van De Graaff just couldn’t help himself. The physicist was born in Tuscaloosa in the early 20th century and attended the University of Alabama where his brother William was the Tide’s first football All-American. Eventually, Robert moved on to Oxford, Princeton, and MIT, and in the meantime he created the now-famous Van De Graaff generator.

You know, the big metal ball that makes all of your hair stand on end. For the TL;DR inclined, it basically takes a belt and runs it like a treadmill inside of a column leading up to a hollow metal sphere, and all that movement just makes a ton of static electricity. If you’re more the type that wants to REALLY know how it works, here’s a nice Wiki.

Though at the time it was probably the most efficient particle accelerator around, the Van De Graaff generator is now mostly used at science museums to entertain kids while instructors tell them all about the physics behind electrostatic charges. It’s a win-win for all. The kids that will end up in STEM careers learn how things work. The non-STEM kids get to laugh as their friends’ hair stands straight up.

And because I just can’t go without another mention of haunted places, the Jemison-Van De Graaff mansion still stands in downtown Tuscaloosa and is used as a venue site. A venue site with countless tellings of items going missing and appearing in random places in the house. Plus there’s a giant portrait right inside the front doors who’s depicted creepy lady’s eyes most definitely follow you no matter which window you look in. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.