Care and Feeding of the Van De Graaff Generator, or how to get the finicky thing to work!
There was a time I used to brag that I could get a Van De Graaff generator running in a rainstorm. This was a bit of hyperbole, of course but I do have to say that I got pretty good at operating a Van De Graaff generator (VDGG from hereout) when I worked for a science museum. However, my experience was not typical for Van De Graaff users – more often that not, most VDGG’s are rolled to out to be used for one day in the Physics class. They are operated in 2-4 classes during that day and then rolled back into storage. My high school physics teacher, not the most comic of science teachers, consdiered the use of the VDGG and raising up a student’s hair to be ‘obligatory’ for the class.
This limited usage, however, may mean that many teachers don’t really get an idea of what can go wrong with their machinery. Especially when the VDGG is being used by a middle school or elementary school teacher who may not have the experience needed to run the VDGG proeprly.
The following is a list of things that can go wrong, how to diagnose them, and how to fix them. It is by no means comprehesive but should get you the opportunity to operate your VDGG successfully.