On Saturday, October 1st, 2022, the SPARK Museum will celebrate the 10th anniversary of what has become their premier visitor attraction: The MegaZapper Electrical Show, featuring a gigantic Tesla coil that throws 12 ft. bolts of lightning…inside the building. And if that’s not scary enough, they do this Show every weekend before a live audience.
Hard to believe, but true.
“Seattle has The Space Needle, and Bellingham has The MegaZapper,” says president and CEO John Jenkins. “We’re just a little louder.”
In 2012, SPARK decided to create something that would draw visitors from all over the world. They wanted something that reflected the Museum’s fundamental mission: ‘Get everyone excited about science.’ They wanted something dramatic, mesmerizing, and unforgettable. That’s when Jenkins thought of a Tesla Coil.
“We had always wanted a Tesla coil,” says Jenkins. “I made a one when I was a kid, and always thought they were fascinating.”
The Tesla Coil was developed by Nickola Tesla in 1891, and considered the first system to successfully transmit electrical energy without wires. By using resonance, and pulses of high-frequency alternating current (AC), the coil creates an electromagnetic field that broadcasts electrical energy without wires. The high-frequency voltage causes florescent bulbs to glow, and if powerful enough, can generate bolts of white-hot lightning on command.
Tesla coil technology was ultimately deemed inefficient, impractical and unsafe for providing electrical energy to the general public. But Tesla coils captured the world’s imagination, and dramatically showed electricity’s possibilities.
In 2010, Jenkins discovered KVA Effects founder, Jeff Parisse. Jeff specializes in high voltage special effects for TV, film & theatre. He’s also considered the best Telsa coil builder in the world. Jeff suggested a large Tesla coil he’d recently sold to Cirque du Soleil, who was attempting a Las Vegas show titled “beLIEve”, starring magician Criss Angel. Ultimately, the coil proved too frightening and dangerous for the illusionist to tolerate, and the show was promptly cancelled.
“The coil even scared him and was removed from the show before it officially closed,” says Jeff. “I repurposed the coil for use in the (SPARK) Museum.” That’s how the SPARK Museum acquired their 9 ft. SG10-Tesla Coil, with controller and KV transformer, today better known as The MegaZapper.
“We wanted a signature attraction, something you wouldn’t experience anywhere else,” says Jenkins. “We can’t think of a better way to attract visitors, and deliver on the Museum’s promise to provide “loud, scary, fun for the whole family.”
Jeff helped install and test the coil, which continues to operated flawlessly. “We might as well rename the coil ‘Old Faithful’,” says Jenkins. “We plan on getting at least another 10 years out of that monster.”
“I’m proud to be associated with the Spark Museum,” writes Jeff. “It is my all-time favorite science museum out of the twenty worldwide Tesla coil installations in my career.”
The other major player in the MegaZapper Show’s grand finale is the Museum’s custom built faraday cage: The Cage of Doom, designed by noted metal and glass sculptor Rik Allen. Allen likes to use rocket imagery in his creations, and The Cage of Doom reflects that inspiration. “The top of the Cage is rounded and tilted like a rocket ship toward the MegaZapper,” says Allen. “It makes it look a little more dangerous.”
But is it dangerous?
“Of course there are established scientific principles that tell you everything will be fine,” says Jenkins. “Still…when a giant arc of four and a half million volts is coming right at you, well, you do gulp.”
Once the Museum acquired The MegaZapper & The Cage of Doom, they realized they needed something even more important, something they couldn’t build or purchase. They needed a show, and not just a show for collectors and electrical engineers. SPARK needed a show for everyone. “We don’t want to just turn the machines and walk away,” says Jenkins. “That would get boring, and not nearly as much fun.”
So what is the MegaZapper Electrical Show?
“It is sort of Franklin meets Frankenstein,” says Jenkins. “Electrical science, but in a way that’s fun and engaging for everyone.” Elements of the Show include a variety of eye-popping electrical contraptions reminiscent of both Franklin and Frankenstein’s laboratories. At the end of the Show, adult audience members have the opportunity to enter the Cage of Doom and get bombarded with 4.6 million volts of loose electricity, and use their cell phones to record what visitors call “the selfie of a lifetime.”
“There is no denying this is an excellent way to promote a museum devoted to electrical inventions,” wrote Erik Lacitis, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for The Seattle Times, in their October 10, 2012 issue. “Let patrons sit inside a 9-foot-tall metal cage and zap it with blue sparks carrying 4 million volts.”
Three days later, on Saturday, October 13, 2012, the first official MegaZapper Electrical Show was performed in the Museum’s Performance Center. Extra Shows were added all weekend. Every Show was sold out…and so it began.
In the past 10 years the Museum has performed over 5000 MegaZapper Electrical Shows for people of all ages, all walks of life, all mesmerized by the power and beauty of Jeff Parisse’s stunning Tesla coil, and Rik Allen’s wondrously interactive spaced-out birdcage.
“There’s no question,” says Jon Winter, Museum co-founder. “The MegaZapper Electrical Show is the major reason why SPARK is consistently rated the #1 indoor tourist attraction in Whatcom County!”
Ten years of science entertainment with a Kaboom!
To celebrate this special anniversary, the SPARK Museum will be joined by Doktor Kaboom for an evening filled with science, comedy, and of course, Kaboom! Doktor Kaboom performs original interactive science comedy shows for audiences of all ages. Creatively blending theater arts with the wonders of scientific exploration, Doktor Kaboom keeps his crowds riveted with interest and rolling with laughter.
Join SPARK Museum and Doktor Kaboom for a side splitting journey of increasingly spectacular (and often successful) science experiments designed to involve, excite, educate, and entertain, in celebration of a spectacular piece of Bellingham history.