Mathematics of Lightning

Published by patrick honner on

Here’s a fun challenge suggested by Matt Henderson:  can you find a mathematical model for the path of a bolt of lightning?

You can check out this video of a lightning strike to get the ideas flowing:

The tree structure suggests graph theory, the bifurcations suggest dynamical systems, and the inherent physics suggest that some complicated differential equations might be involved.


patrick honner

Math teacher in Brooklyn, New York


Ben · July 25, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Given the fact that the leaders involved in the production of lightning travel in a discontinuous manner, some finite element methods could be involved. I’d also imagine it would be reasonable to assume that, given that the electric current will follow a path of least resistance, there may be call some sort of application of the calculus of variations.

    Ben · July 25, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Typo, the end of my last sentence should read:

    call for some sort of application of the calculus of variations.

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