The Fourth of July only comes once a year. That is, unless you're D.C. Cox or a fan of his handiwork.
The science fanatic's home - tucked away in a forest north of Baraboo - will host flashes of sparkling brilliance from high voltage transformers known as Tesla coils this Saturday as part of the 10th annual Lightning On The Lawn event.
It's a gathering of mad science that in past years has featured a 660 pound robot, plasma tubes and a laser with a range of more than 200 miles.
"We had to make sure we didn't shoot (the laser) over that way," Cox said Tuesday as he gestured in the direction of an instrument landing system marker beacon near his home, which is used by airliners as they approach the Dane County Regional Airport.
Cox is well-known for his Tesla coils, which shoot impressive arcing sparks and make futuristic zapping sounds. His company, Resonance Research Corporation, makes lightning generators for science exhibits all over the world.
The company manufactures the Van de Graaf generators that make children's hair stand up at the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory Interactive Science Center. Cox recently altered that product's design to make it horizontal and allow more than one person to use it at once. He calls it The Bridge of Fire.
A fan of all things science, Cox attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received his bachelor's degree in physics. But he says he likes to push the envelope and think outside the science textbooks he studied in school. And so do some of the people who attend his annual gathering.
One of those people is Brian Vodvarka, an electrical engineer from Wisconsin Dells who has made an impressive discovery.
Vodvarka, who has been tinkering with Tesla coils since the 1980s and has worked with Cox's company, has figured out how to make the coils speak using digital sound files.
Previous Lightning on the Lawns have featured coils that play music through programs that use musical notations or MIDI files. Vodvarka has figured out how to make the coils mimic sounds played from complete digital files, which could include music, people talking or any recorded noise and plans to debut the technology during Saturday's event in Baraboo.
"You can broadcast Brewers games," Vodvarka said with a chuckle.
He said he finally got his Tesla coil to play digital music last fall, and has plans to perfect the invention.
"This was just a mini one just to see if it works," Vodvarka said.
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