D. P. O.
A dysfunctional teenager seems to have the ability to harness the electrical
power of lightning.
These initials are the inadvertant calling card of prime suspect Darin Peter Oswald,
left on an arcade game's high score list at the time and place of the most recent
When four mysterious electrocution deaths in the small town of Connerville are attributed
to lightning, Mulder and Scully suspect foul play. The fictitious Connerville is the home of an
atmospheric research center that attempts to induce lightning strikes in order to
study their nature. There are real-life lightning institutes, such as the Langmuir Lab
in New Mexico, that do exactly that; they launch rockets and balloons into stormclouds
to induce lightning, they fly planes through storms to make measurements--all this in
the name of science!
Visit the homepage of the Langmuir Atmospheric Laboratory at
http://bat.nmt.edu/ for some fascinating stormchasing
experiments and captivating lightning photos.
"Okay," you're thinking, "lightning's pretty cut and dry--it's just an electrical discharge
between ground and cloud that causes ionization of particles in the air giving off both a
visual flash and an audible boom, right?" Actually, lightning has been sighted in many
different forms, from spidery fingers that crawl along the bottoms of clouds, to ethereal,
rarely photographed (and scientifically unconfirmed) balls of inexplicable origin.
(Almost sounds like an X-File in itself, eh?)
For the kids, there's National Geographic World Magazine's look at lightning at
If you'd prefer less pictures and more cool science, then check out the lightning page created by Ron Hipschman
(webmaster for San Francisco's Exploratorium) at
The two agents find a crucial clue in the form of a footprint in a fulgurite. A
fulgurite is patch of earth (usually sand or soil) that has been fused into glass
by a lightning strike. I don't know how likely it is that a person struck by lightning
with enough current to fuse sand into glass would be able to separate their shoe from
the superheated sand...but then again, it's probably not too likely that a person would
live through a lightning strike with that kind of current.
To learn more about fulgurites and how they are formed, go to a page by meteorology
student Ken Daniel at
The Langmuir Lab, mentioned above, also conducts fulgurite
The troubled Darin Oswald seems to be able to control the flow of electricity itself,
from the currents in wires controlling a local stop light to the impulses traveling in a
person's nervous system. Before you dismiss the idea that an earthly organism might have
such powers to manipulate electric fields, consider the electric eel. A member of the
Gymnotiformes order of fish, the electric eel has the ability to generate an electric field
along its length through the use of electroplaques, cells that store electric charge much
like capacitors. Electric eels use their electroplaques to sense disturbances in the electric
field around them, as well as to stun their prey with up to 600 volts of electricity.
To read what Encyclopaedia Britannica has to say about the bioelectricity of electric
eels, go to
To learn more about capacitors, read Encarta Encyclopedia's
entry on the subject at http://encarta.msn.com/find/concise/ default.asp?vs=x97&la=na&ty=1&vo=2F&ti=05b9c000,
and while you're there, you can check out their simplified treatise on electric fish at
Just a sidenote: Scully's perusal of Darin's bloodwork records at the hospital reveals
that he has a high amount of electrolytes in his body.
are substances that dissolve in water (or a similar liquid) to help it better conduct
electricity. High levels of electrolytes can cause hyperkalemia, the condition
that killed the medical technician injected with potassium chloride in
This page was last updated: 07/22/98
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