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A recent study suggests that wet skin may offer protection against lightning strikes, potentially saving lives.
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A recent study suggests that wet skin may offer protection against lightning strikes, potentially saving lives.

Although being soaked in a thunderstorm may appear to be the worst possible day, studies indicate it could potentially save lives if struck by lightning.

Researchers have conducted an experiment using 3D models of a human head that suggests being wet may decrease the amount of damage caused by a direct lightning strike, making it a potential candidate for an Ig Nobel prize.

According to René Machts, the first author of the study from Ilmenau University of Technology in Germany, being outdoors without shelter is better if your skin is wet rather than dry. This is because the water acts as a protective coating. However, it is still safer to find a protected location and make yourself as small as possible.

According to a recent article published in Scientific Reports, Machts and his team state that past theoretical research has proposed that wet skin could potentially decrease the amount of current that flows through the body when a person is struck by lightning. Furthermore, studies have indicated that animals with damp skin may have a better chance of surviving a lightning strike.

The effect of water on a person’s head during a thunderstorm, which is often accompanied by rain, on the impact of a lightning strike was still unknown.

In order to investigate the matter, the group constructed two models of human heads using three layers of a gelatinous material with varying amounts of sodium chloride, carbon black, or graphite to mimic the electrical properties of the brain, skull, and scalp.

Next, the researchers attached electrodes to the various layers and the platform holding the models. One model was kept dry, while the other was sprayed with a solution mimicking rainwater. Each model was then placed in a chamber and subjected to 10 simulations of a direct lightning strike.

The findings indicate that during a lightning strike, a current flows through the “scalp” of both model heads, causing a flashover. However, prior to the flashover, the wet head had lower average electrical current (12.5% less) in the brain layer and lower specific energy (32.5% less) in the brain compartment compared to the dry head. This may explain why wet animals have a higher survival rate in previous experiments.

The researchers additionally note that the wet head exhibited less evidence of harm, such as scalp punctures or fractures, after being struck by lightning. However, they emphasize the need for further research.

According to Machts, we intend to develop additional head models to measure the impact of headgear and potentially explore materials for an ideal headgear that would decrease the current in the head. This could be beneficial for hikers who are unable to seek refuge.

Source: theguardian.com