Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Pointed Lightning Rods
Name: A. B.
Status: educator
Age: 40s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2000-2001

Why does the lightning conductor have pointed shape? I know it has something to do with electric field lines. Please explain.

The electric field in a conductor is very strong at a sharp edge or point so it provides a good target for a lightning discharge. You can find the quantitative details in a text on electricity and magnetism. Richard Fey also gives a good treatment in Vol. 2 Chapter 9 of "Lectures on Physics". In addition, check out the website:

It has a lot of good information.

Vince Calder

Electrons tend to move to and from pointed objects. They tend to remain on smooth round surfaces (like the globes on a Van de Graf generator). We do not want a charge to build up between buildings and clouds until a sudden discharge can do great damage. Instead, by applying a pointed lightning rod the charge is dissipated slowly keeping the electrical potential difference low. Unlike the Hollywood version, lightning seldom strikes a lightning rod.

Larry K.

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory