Yesterday, on my way home, partly inspired by reading more about Felix Hess, I bought a plasma globe. I have wanted one since childhood. Now that I am a bona-fide mad scientist, it is almost obligatory that I own one. It also brings closure on two pieces of personal history; an unstarted project and an unsolved mystery.
When I was 12 or 13 I considered making one of my own. I had an old TV and a spare glass globe. I knew that it was ‘simply a case of putting the electron gun in the ball with the right mix of gases.. (or something.) Thankfully I was a lazy and impractical child or I might have killed myself poking around the back of the TV. Nonetheless, it always nagged at me that I never got round to it. No need now.
The mystery is more recent. I used to claim I loved the smell of wet bricks. People looked at me strangely when I said this. I used to live in the Match Factory, originally a wonderful old red brick factory from the evil old days of Queen Victoria, little match girls, phossy jaw and the beginnings of the labour movement and more recently a post-Tatcher yuppie fortress. When walking home in wet weather, there would always be a wonderful seemingly coming from some other red-brick outbuildings. It was primarily the one housing the electricity sub-station, so I guess I knew the smell must have been electrical but in my mind it was ‘wet bricks’.
Now, thanks to my new plasma globe, I realise it was in fact ozone. Reading about how the things work, it seems that the high-voltage capacitance effects such as you get when you put your fingers on it produce ozone. That has the same smell as those wet bricks. So I now have a space age machine and have the power to instantly produce that ‘wonderful’ smell literally at my fingertips. Although now I know it is the smell of poisonous gas ozone, I can’t seem enjoy it as much as I used to.