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'15,000 Volts' VIDEO: Melanie Hoff's Time-Lapse Shows How 'Lightning' Makes Pretty Patterns In Plywood

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Ever wondered what really happens when lightning strikes an object? A stunning new video affords an up-close look at a phenomenon one ordinarily doesn't want to get too close to.

Called "15,000 Volts," the video was uploaded to Vimeo on March 1 by Melanie Hoff, a 23-year-old sculpture major at New York City's Pratt Institute. It shows 15,000 volts of electricity carving gorgeous branching patterns into a sheet of plywood. The electricity is directed into the wood via alligator clips.

Hoff said her video was created as part of her senior thesis project, adding that the clip was shot over the course of about 10 hours in a Brooklyn, N.Y. metal shop. After shooting the video, Hoff said, she spent several hours editing the footage -- and speeding up the action by a factor of about 500,000, on average.

"I discovered this process two years ago," Hoff told The Huffington Post. "I wanted to use scientific practices in my work … I was inspired by the act of experimenting and how that relates to the art process. If you look at [the line between science and art] as an arbitrary border, a lot of avenues can open up and I wanted to explore those avenues."

What does science have to say about the video? Dr. Martin Uman, co-director of the University of Florida's International Center for Lightning Research and Testing in Gainesville, told The Huffington Post in an email that Hoff's video shows a well-known effect of lightning.

"The pattern burned in the wood is called a "Lichtenberg figure," Uman said, adding that the lines look similar whether the electrical current is passing through wood or other materials, including the skin of someone unlucky enough to be struck by lightning. "Electrons are being collected like tributaries of a river," he said.

Uman called Hoff's video "spectacular," and he isn't Hoff's only fan among the 200,000 people who so far have viewed "15,000 Volts." "Pretty amazing," Vimeo user Christopher Jobson commented. "Never seen anything like it."

(Hat tip, CBS News)

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Melanie Hoff's college as Pratt University. Hoff attends Pratt Institute in New York City.

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