TU Ilmenau: Rainwater significantly reduces damage from lightning strikes to the head

Langzeitbelichtung eines Experiments mit einer Blitzentladung auf einem KunstkopfTU Ilmenau/René Machts
Long exposure of an experiment with a flash discharge on an artificial head

Research carried out by the Technische Universität Ilmenau has shown thatrainwater on the scalp can reduce the damage caused by direct lightning strikes to the head. In comparison to dry scalps, wet scalps are less severely struck and the wetness also reduces the electrical current to which the brain is exposed. The scientists concluded that a person would have a significantly higher chance of survival in the event of a direct lightning strike to the head. The results of the research conducted by the Biomedical Engineering Group and the Group forLightning and Surge Protection at TU Ilmenau have just been published in the renowned journal Springer Nature Scientific Reports.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-50563-w

Earlier theoretical research already assumed that wet skin could reduce the electrical current to which a human body is exposed during a lightning strike. However, there was no practical proof of this assumption. Scientific experiments conducted by the  Biomedical Engineering Group and the Group for Lightning and Surge Protection at TU Ilmenau have now provided the proof. The scientists constructed human-like model heads and exposed them to high-energy electrical discharges that were modeled on natural lightning.The model heads had three layers to replicate the scalp, skull and brain, and materials such as water, sodium chloride, graphite and agarose were used to simulate the electrical conductivity of human tissue.

Die Kunstköpfe, die mit künstlichem Regenwasser besprüht worden waren (Bild lks.), wiesen weniger Perforationen und weniger stark beschädigte Bereiche auf, als die trockenen (re.)TU Ilmenau/René Machts
The artificial heads that had been sprayed with artificial rainwater (left) showed fewer perforations and less severely damaged areas than the dry ones (right).

The scientists then carried out a comparative experiment: One head was exposed to the electrical discharges in a dry state, while another had previously been sprayed with artificial rainwater. On the wet artificial head, there were fewer perforations and less severely damaged areas in the vicinity of the lightning strikes. In addition, the recorded currents to which the brain was exposed were lower on the wet head than on the dry one, which is why it was exposed to much less stress. From both results, the scientists concluded that the chance of survival of a person whose head is struck by lightning is significantly higher if the scalp is wet. Nevertheless, lightning discharges pose great dangers and a protected environment should be sought as quickly as possible.

Original publication:

Machts, R., Hunold, A., Drebenstedt, C. et al. Rain may improve survival from direct lightning strikes to the human head. Sci Rep 14, 1695 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-50563-w


Prof. Jens Haueisen
Head of the Biomedical Engineering
+49 3677 69-2861