An improvised quick carbon arc experiment [result: inconclusive]

  • Introduction

    Following the recent MFMP announcement on a possible transmutation success with George Egely's microwave cavity device, the Ohsawa reaction and some papers I found in the published literature (also see this), I decided to do a quick experiment with improvised equipment.

    Note that experimental conditions are not controlled. The experiment is as cheap as it gets, just made out of curiosity.


    The carbon rods are actually pencil rods. Graphite in these rods is certainly not pure (it contains binders, impurities, etc). I used two pairs of "rods":

    1. Two broken pencil rods of roughly 60 mm each, from the same Faber-Castell HB (orange) lead pencil
    2. Two Koh-I-Noor refill HB pencil leads, about 150 mm length

    The power supply is an old no-brand 12V DC output, ATX computer PSU.

    One rod is connected to ground potential (black wire), the other on +12V (yellow wire) using standard electric wires and insulating tape. Electrical contact seemed adequate.


    I first tried with the Koh-I-Noor refill pencil leads.

    Before doing the actual arcing experiment I scrape off some graphite powder from the leads with an utility knife. I test with a subjectively powerful neodymium magnet from a broken hard disk drive for any magnetic response. The flakes do not seem to respond at all to the magnetic field.

    I then connect the rods to the DC PSU. To keep things simple, since the reaction is reported to also occur in air, I only use the bare rods without submerging them in water as in some reports (besides, I would need a different power supply and better equipment for this sort of experiment).

    Arcing in this experiment is induced manually. By rubbing the graphite rods together, small but sometimes bright sparks can be easily produced. The rods need to make contact repeatedly for this to work, otherwise they will just heat up.

    Eventually, some graphite flakes can be exfoliated from the exposed pencil leads. There can be a preferential direction along which the flakes come off more easily. I keep contact light in order to keep producing small smarks.

    Sharp/small protuberances on the rods (e.g. from graphite flakes that haven't fallen yet) appear to produce more intense light, sometimes surprisingly so.

    To the touch, the positive rod appears to heat up sensibly more than the other held at ground potential, but this hasn't been tested for accurately.

    The short Faber-Castell HB half-pencils appear to have a softer lead that flakes off easily. They heat up more and produce brighter (still small) sparks. Larger currents are clearly involved here.

    Graphite flakes falling off the Faber-Castell HB half-pencils also seem more magnetic than those from the harder Koh-I-Noor refill leads. On average they have a larger size, but this hasn’t been characterized in detail.

    In both cases I don't get large movement of the graphite flakes after hovering the Nd magnet at a close distance through a sheet of paper; for the most part they only reorient along the direction of the magnetic field.

    Afterward, I put the apparently magnetic flakes in 5% acetic acid solution (vinegar). However, I seem to get no reaction or change in appearance of the flakes (which might contain iron). Unfortunately I didn't have a readily available way to burn the graphite flakes at high temperature in air.


    Not having other means to check with at the moment, I can't confirm whether iron was actually produced. Still, I suspect that with stronger arcing/larger currents the effect could be made more visible.


    A similar experiment is shown in this video (this is not me!):

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  • Zephir_AWT

    I'm aware of magnetic graphite. I don't have peroxide available at the moment but the acetic acid solution where I put some of the magnetic graphite produced (a very tiny amount) has acquired a yellowish tinge. It could be anything though, including contamination from other elements in the impure graphite used for these pencils.

    EDIT: by the way, I have to stress again that this is even less than low-budget. It's a zero-budget experiment. However, I think it shows that whatever effect MFMP is observing with Egely's NOVA reactor, could probably be observed even this way.

  • [...] the acetic acid solution where I put some of the magnetic graphite produced (a very tiny amount) has acquired a yellowish tinge. It could be anything though, including contamination from other elements in the impure graphite used for these pencils.

    For what it's worth (there's no control and the composition of the graphite is unknown), here's a blurry photo of the container with the solution. White background (slightly translucent) as reference, under white LED lighting. The vinegar acetic acid wasn't this yellow initially.

    EDIT: there's a possibility that the yellow tint comes from a paint particle contamination from the exterior of the pencil.

    • Official Post

    I remember Jean-Paul Biberian working to replicate someone puting charcoal in microwave, and seeing magnetic material outside...

    I remember of very old experiment with arc in petrol with graphite electrodes, and magnetic ashes...

    I'm not convinced, as it could be just non-organic ashes of impure material, but if someone clears the experiment of those possibility, it will be very intriguing.

  • AlainCo

    Before doing the actual arcing I took some graphite powder samples from the pencil leads, and they didn't show any magnetic effect at all. I did write this in the report in the opening post.

    More interesting is how the acid solution turned yellowish. That could mean that a low amount of iron has dissolved in it, if iron has indeed formed. However experimental variables haven't been controlled properly, so it could be due to anything. It would have also probably been better to use hydrochloric acid (=> muriatic acid), but I didn't have some right away.

    • Official Post

    You sample of graphite should be burned, because the effect may be caused by the mineral impurities...

    I this hypothesis it is logical that various kind of graphite, with various structure and impurities, react differently...

    anyway possible I'm over cautious. Few experiments look like yours... Maybe you could find some commonalities.

    What is amazing for me, if metallic, is that the magnetic ashes don't dissolve in acid...

    maybe you should try stronger acid (and why not use flame spectroscopy).

    Maybe it is not iron, or it is even graphene or fullerene...

    Or a great surprise. Wish it is.

  • AlainCo

    I'm inviting others with better equipment and controls to replicate the experiment and discuss the results here. I didn't even have a bench power supply or crocodile clips for the electrical wires at disposal, let alone a way to burn the graphite cleanly at high temperatures.

    Carbon wouldn't dissolve in acid, but the (presumed) iron portion would, especially with a strong(er) acid. The ferromagnetic particles wouldn't necessarily be entirely composed of metal.

    As Zephir_AWT previously pointed out, there are reports in the mainstream scientific literature of graphite becoming ferromagnetic under certain conditions; however here I tried to look at more than just this effect.

    EDIT: other possibilities:

    • Migration of ions from the metallic wires to the graphite rods (seems unlikely but perhaps possible).
    • The graphite leads already contained iron oxides, and the high local temperatures caused by the arc discharges reduced them to elemental iron. Perhaps I should also test untreated graphite powder in acid.
    • Official Post


    sorry if I did not do my homework , you seems to have done your's.

    Maybe you could contact jean-paul biberian who is replicating an experiment with charcoal and microwave, and maybe have considered how to test your kind of observed anomalies.

  • Zephir_AWT

    I don't have a throwaway microwave oven for these tests and didn't plan using one, but among other things I realized that an advantage would be the elimination of possible contamination from metals in the electrical wires. However that's the least of the problems when using standard lead pencils (see below).


    The most essential step would probably be using pure graphite rods. From one of the links previously provided by Zephir_AWT I realized that pencil leads are very far from containing just carbon. Si, Fe, Al are the main impurities, present in significant amounts from the clays/fillers used by the manufacturers to give controlled pencil gradations.