Browse over 10,000 Electronics Projects

Rediscovering the magic of wireless communication

Rediscovering the magic of wireless communication

Spark-gap transmitter

To test my coherer, I used a piezoelectric stove lighter. The electric spark created by the lighter was able to trigger the coherer, but it was not very reliable. So, I decided to build a better spark transmitter. I went to a junkyard and salvaged an ignition coil from a car. An ignition coil is a step-up transformer which converts 12V (from the car’s battery) to 20,000V-30,000V. This high voltage is sent to the spark plug to create sparks.

There are different kinds of ignition coils. To identify the coils, you could measure the resistance on the primary and secondary coils. The primary coil should have a very low resistance in the range of 0.4 to 2 ohms, and the secondary should have high resistance in the range of 6K to 15K ohms.



To test the coil, I connected a 9V battery to the coil’s primary. That was enough to create a spark on the secondary coil. When I told my dad about it, he shared his wisdom on how a car’s ignition system works, and said that I could improve the sparks if I add a capacitor across the contact point. In a car’s ignition system, there is a capacitor (aka condenser) across the contact breaker. This capacitor absorbs the back-EMF generated by the ignition coil, and reduces arcing on the primary side. This has two benefits. The first is that it improves the life of the contact breaker by reducing burning, and the second benefit is that it results in more intense sparks on the secondary. This is because the magnetic field collapses quicker when the capacitor absorbs the transient back-EMF generated  on the primary side, and this increases the induced EMF on the secondary.


So, I looked around in my workspace for a capacitor with a high enough voltage rating, but didn’t find any. Then, I got an idea while watching BBC’s “Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity” presented by Jim Al-Khalili). In this show, they described how a Dutch scientist by the name of Pieter van Musschenbroek discovered how to store electricity. Before Musschenbroek’s discovery, people could generate electricity with devices like the Hauksbee generator, but did not know how to store it. In those days, people believed that electricity was like an invisible fluid. Using this analogy, Musschenbroek thought that if electricity is like a fluid, it should be possible to store it in a jar, just like we store water! So, he filled a jar with water, and used that to store electricity. He made what’s called a Leiden (or Leyden) jar (named after a Dutch town named Leiden). The Leyden jar was the first capacitor.

Musschenbroek’s Leyden jar (source)

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6