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Testing the Vortex Dome

By Kenny Biddle

I’ve seen this device, among many others, mentioned on several ghost hunting sites over the last year. In 2014, I had the opportunity to observe the Vortex Dome in person during a paranormal-themed event at a historic New Jersey library. After experiencing a demonstration by a ghost hunting team – which included the LEDs flashing at random times (many times in response to the movements of people sitting at the table), I began to question the device’s functions and claimed ability to detect paranormal activity, which was promoted by the team. The discussion did not go well, with the team offering guesses instead of solid answers and even making up information on the spot to save face. It was evident that this team had no idea what the device really did, or how it did it (which is a common issue throughout the paranormal community).

VD1After departing this situation, I had gone down to the vender area where I met Bob Christopher, the man who makes the Vortex Dome. He stated, quite clearly, that the only claim he makes is that “it picks up static electricity. I never claimed it detected ghosts”. Bob then offered to send me one, so I could look into myself. He was truly interested in what I thought. A few weeks later, I received the device in the mail. It was accompanied with a information sheet about the device.

Description of device

The Vortex Dome is produced by Vortex Ghost Gear [1]. The device measures 3 1/2 inches wide and just under 2 1/2 inches high. The base is cylindrical, beginning its dome shape an inch and half up. On the top of the dome is an LED covered by a small green lens, which indicates thatpower is ON when lit. There are 8 additional LEDs (2 green, 2 red, 2 yellow, and 2 blue) placed in a semi-circle pattern at the base of the “dome” section. Inside is a 8 inch copper wire (antenna) that runs in a semi-circle pattern on the opposite side of the 8 LEDs. A small circuit board is where all the LEDs, antenna, wires from the Power switch and battery pack are attached, a MPF-102 N-Channel RF Amplifier, and an integrated circuit (used to drive the LEDs). The device runs on 4 AAA batteries.

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There is a video demonstration of the device on the Vortex Ghost Gear channel of YouTube [2]. The 52 second video demonstrates how a hair brush causes the device to illuminate the LEDs from approximately one foot away (actual distance is not known, and cannot be determined from the video). The video demonstrates only that static electricity causes the device to light up, caused by induction. There is nothing in the video that relates the device to detecting paranormal activity. The device is sold on both the Vortex Ghost Gear [1] and The Ghost Hunters Store [5] websites for $75.

The Information Sheet

The device came with an information sheet which offers a very basic description of what the device does, one of the inspirations for why it was built, and how to set it up. Unfortunately, the sheet is not on par with an owner’s manual. It doesn’t cover the components used within the device, the specs of the device (ie. min/max voltage to set it off), the significance of having eight LEDs of various colors, and there is no supporting evidence that links static electricity to any paranormal activity (which is an extremely broad term). This is disappointing, since it does state at the bottom of the sheet – “Designed and tested by ghost hunters like yourself“. It would have been nice to see references to these tests in order to determine their validity.

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I’m going to break down this information sheet and discuss each section. The first line of the information page states “The Vortex Dome is a device that is triggered by static or Tribostatic.” [3] When doing a search to define “Tribostatic”, I found references to a process for powder coating materials. From the Yaluoke machiner website:

Tribostatic charging (also called friction charging): What is the working principle of yaluoke coating machine? By increasing the flow speed and constricting the spray tube bore of the gun, the powder particles are charged by being rubbed against the hose wall. Thus, between the spray gun and the object, no powerful electric fields and lines of force develop. This makes it possible to achieve good powder penetration into otherwise inaccessible areas. By being less dependent on spray distance and the geometry of the components, the Tribostatic method often secures a more uniform coat thickness. [4]

The Google search engine kindly included results for “Triboelectric”. After speaking with Bob and questioning this, he stated that the information sheet was incorrect, and should have stated “Triboelectric”. According to Zhong Lin Wang, a professor of materials science and engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology:

Tribo-electric is a modern term with ancient roots—from the Greek word for “rub.” Its electricity created from friction between two substances causing a charge of electrons to be transferred from one to the other. [6]

The Triboelectric effect is how static electricity is created. According to Ducksters.com:

A static charge is formed when two surfaces touch each other and the electrons move from one object to another. One object will have a positive charge and the other a negative charge. Rubbing the items quickly, like when you rub a balloon fast over something or your feet on the carpet, will build up a large charge. Items with different charges (positive and negative) will attract, while items with similar charges (positive and positive) will push away from each other. Sort of like a magnet. [7]

In the information sheet provided, it states that “Once the device is triggered, it sets off the 8 LEDs, which also can show the direction of travels of the field” [3]. In the majority of my attempts of introducing static fields to this device, the LEDs illuminated in the exact same pattern no matter where or how far away (within six feet) a static field was introduced; the first green LED to the last blue LED. I was able to get the light to pause momentarily on a red LED, but it was for a fraction of a second while holding a hairbrush, which was recently run through hair (thus creating a charge), less than two inches from the device. It was at this time that I was able to get the LEDs to flash out of sequence. With more practice, I was able to repeat this event over and over. The device was not indicating the direction the field was traveling, but rather by bringing the hairbrush close to the device, I was inducing a charge in the wire connected to the LED(s) closest to the charged brush.

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Since all of the LEDs are connected in series, once the amplifier was tripped, all of the lights will be energized by the integrated chip. In reality, seven of the eight LEDs are of no use whatsoever. There are no internal parts that would designate each LED to signify a different measurement. Even cutting one of the LED’s path to the board did not stop the remaining LEDs after it to illuminate.

Adjustment Sequence

In the instructions provided, under the “How to Use” section, we’re told “Once the device is placed it will normally check surrounding conditions and will adjust itself by the 8 LEDs going off in sequence anywhere from 5 to 30 seconds after it is initially set down” [3].

We tested this time frame (5 to 30 seconds) by turning it on and placing it on a table. Once I let go of the device, we started a counter. Once the sequence started, the timer was stopped and the elapsed time recorded. This was repeated twenty five times.
1 – 1:03   6 – 0:18   11 – 0:52  16 – 0:53   21 – 0:46
2 – 0:32   7 – 1:03    12 – 1:00  17 – 1:11   22 – 0:25
3 – 0:47   8 – 0:56    13 – 1:09  18 – 1:02   23 – 0:44
4 – 0:24   9 – 1:02    14 – 1:26  19 – 0:35   24 – 0:30
5 – 0:25   10 – 0:52   15 – 1:18  20 – 0:36   25 – 0:49

The shortest time recorded was 18 seconds, while the longest time recorded was 1:26. This gives us an average of 49.5 seconds. Out of the 25 tests, 19 were found to be over the maximum time (76%). This adjustment time is very inconsistent. The adjustment sequence is specific with this particular device; the green LED to the far left (when the LEDs are facing you) pulses very faintly three times, then approximately four seconds later, the same LED lights up solid and bright, followed by the remaining seven LEDs slowly lighting up solid and in turn going out. Once the process is recognized, it’s obvious that it differs from the quick flashing that goes on when a static charge is detected.

The instructions sheet states “If you pick up the device and move it to another location, it will readjust again and so on”. This is an important detail that appears to be overlooked by paranormal groups in practical use. During my first interaction with this device at a paranormal investigation, members of the team were constantly moving the device around. At no time was it explained that the device needed to reset. In fact, when the adjustment sequence displayed, the team claimed this was due to paranormal activity.

In addition, I noticed that the device had a tendency to display the adjustment sequence after it had registered a static field, without any action from me (or anyone else). I proceeded to create a static charge to trigger the device, then set a timer to determine how long before it would readjust on its own. This process was conducted twenty five times.
1 – 0:13   6 – 0:02   11 – 0:08    16 – 0:42   21 – 0:24
2 – 0:56   7 – 0:40   12 – 0:14    17 – 0:04   22 – 0:02
3 – 0:42   8 – 3:48   13 – 4:29    18 – 2:54   23 – 1:18
4 – 0:44   9 – 0:02   14 – 0:04    19 – 0:38   24 – 6:33
5 – 0:22   10 – 0:05   15 – 0:30   20 – 5:42   25 – 3:34

The recorded times for the “readjustment” after the device had registered a static field were not only inconsistent, but also varied greatly – more so than the initial adjustment when the device is switched on and released (from human touch). The shortest time to reset was 2 seconds, while the longest recorded was 6:33 (the 25 attempts averages out to 1:24).

This readjustment that takes place is important to note. Even though the information sheet that came with the device clearly mentions this, the notation seems to be ignored. During the investigation I attended (detailed above), as well as in two videos that are presented of the device in action [9,10] – the adjustment sequence is what is recorded. Yet, the videos give the impression that it is some type of paranormal activity that set it off. (The video from Burlington Library was discussed with the owner of the video and they acknowledged the sequence). Without understanding that this sequence is supposed to happen, I can see this being mistakenly attributed to paranormal activity as being the cause.

Something else to note is that there doesn’t seem to be any mechanism in the device that adjusts to the environment. It’s stated in the information sheet that “…once the device is in place it will normally check the surrounding conditions and will adjust itself…”. The amplifier used simply signals an On or Off; On when it picks up a static charge (which activates the lights), and Off when there is no charge detected. The integrated chip is used to drive the LEDs – to turn them On and Off in a specific pattern. It doesn’t have the capability to “check the surrounding conditions”. The pattern displayed for the adjustment sequence is most likely a default pattern programmed on the integrated chip. Bottom line, the device doesn’t need any adjustment, it switches on when static charges are picked up just as good before, as it does after this sequence – the sequence has no effect on the device picking up static charges.

So, is it supposed to detect ghosts/spirits? When I spoke with the owner of Vortex Ghost Gear [11], he stated clearly that he never claimed the device detects ghosts. He explained that it only detects static fields, and that was it. Indeed, after playing and experimenting with the device for a few weeks, I found that that is all it does. The MPF-102 N-Channel RF Amplifier, which is the main component of the device, is basically a diode that switches On and Off – that’s it. Its sensitivity is ridiculously high, able to detect one volt. According to Dr. Jeremy Smallwood, owner of Electrostatic Solution Ltd.,:

… body voltages can vary from zero up to 35000 V and above. In general you don’t feel shocks unless your body voltage is above about 3000-4000 V. Getting out of a car, about 8000-10000 V is not uncommon. In general the likelihood of achieving a certain body voltage decreases as the voltage increases, so voltages of a few hundred volts are “normal”, and a few thousand volts not uncommon, but tens of thousands of volts are more unusual. [16]

With a “few hundred volts” being normal, this device will easily be set off by the people around it. In the listing on The Ghost Hunter Store website, it states:

A static charges e-field is such a lower energy field spirits can easily manipulate this and use it as a way to communicate with us [5].

This statement does not appear on the listing for the device on Vortex Ghost Gear website. This statement is unsupported by any valid, scientific evidence. It is pure speculation and should not be taken as fact. Static electricity in our environment is actually a matter of high voltage [8], and so shouldn’t be considered “a lower energy field”.

Reading the information sheet further, it’s mentioned that one of the inspirations for building this device comes from a chapter in the book Paranormal Technology: Understanding the Science of Ghost Hunting, by David M. Rountree. A specific quote is given:

To a paranormal researcher, there is essentially two kinds of static electricity; that which is a natural product of the environment, and that which is not. Naturally occurring static electricity may facilitate paranormal intensity by adding energy to the environment. Paranormal static electricity may be a byproduct of whatever causes the entrance of the paranormal phenomena into our environment. [17].

This entire quote is pure speculation unsupported by any data/evidence – from stating that “natural static MAY facilitate paranormal intensity” (what does that even mean?), to “paranormal static” (there is no such thing). This is pseudoscience at best, and holds as much supporting evidence as the invisible purple dragon I keep hidden in my garage.

In the information sheet, as well as on both the Vortex Ghost Gear and The Ghost Hunter Store websites, it is stated “There are still more theories that when a manifestation takes place a static charge builds up” [3]. These are not scientific theories, rather they are ideas in the area of “Maybe this or maybe that”. Scientific theories summarize a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing [12]. The idea that a manifestation (a ghost appearing) builds up a static charge is another statement unsupported by any valid, scientific evidence. Sadly, these ideas follow the same path that most “para-theories” take; they are based on assumptions and speculation, rather than supported valid evidence and research. It’s interesting to note that in searching for any study or reference to this statement, it was only paranormal-related sites or in paranormal related books that this idea was presented.

The information sheet goes on to state:

Triobostatic can also attribute to the hair on your arm or leg standing up or that cool breeze out of no where, these are all charges that will set off The Vortex Dome [3].

Since the term “tribostatic” used on this sheet should have been “triboelectric”, which IS static, of course it can cause your hair to stand up. According to the Library of Congress Science Reference Services:

The rubbing of certain materials against one another can transfer negative charges, or electrons. If you’ve been wearing a hat because its cold outside, as you remove your hat, electrons are transferred from hat to hair. Remember, objects with the same charge repel each other. Because they have the same charge, your hair will stand on end. Your hairs are simply trying to get as far away from each other as possible. [13]

Another reason your hair stands up on end is goosebumps. I checked  Scientific America, which said:

Goosebumps are tiny elevations of the skin that resemble the skin of poultry after the feathers have been plucked. These bumps are caused by a contraction of miniature muscles that are attached to each hair. Each contracting muscle creates a shallow depression on the skin surface, which causes the surrounding area to protrude. The contraction also causes the hair to stand up whenever the body feels cold. The reason for all these responses is the subconscious release of a stress hormone called adrenaline. In humans, adrenaline is often released when we feel cold or afraid, but also if we are under stress and feel strong emotions, such as anger or excitement. [14]

VD3The device was placed in different areas of my house, and observed for any activity. For those that are wondering if my house is “haunted”, I can only say that it is as haunted as any other place that makes such a claim. In all honesty, this doesn’t matter. Although the information sheet quotes a “para-theory” as one inspiration for creating the device, there is no claim that the device detects anything paranormal – the claim is that it detects static electricity. Over the course of several days and nights, we observed the device reacting to various events:

  • People and our dog walking within one to six feet of it
  • Hair being brushed from up to six feet away
  • Movements from standing up/sitting down/shifting position on couch/chair
  • Rubbing socks/jeans/slippers/shoes/sweaters/hoodies on carpets/tablecloths/rugs
    Disturbing layers of clothing that we were wearing.
  • We also found that some electronic devices such as older monitors and TVs could set off the device.

We also noticed that the device’s ability to detect static charges was inconsistent. In the first paragraph of the information sheet, it states “It’s internal antenna can pick up static fields that are not visible to the naked eye as far as three feet away”. There is about 500 volts in the shortest visible spark from static electricity [18]. I charged a sweater (through friction charging) and was able to produce sparks within it while being between one and three feet from the device. The LEDs would illuminate inconsistently; at times flashing quickly, while other times they would not illuminate at all despite the sweater still producing sparks.

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I brought this device to a few people that have a background and a lot more experience with electrical components than I do. This is what they had to say…

There are a few basic problems with the claims associated with this device. First of all, the only thing it detects is static electricity. The entire mechanism is based on the switch. This switch is so sensitive that it reacts to amperage in the “micro” range (1 microamp is 1/1,000,000 of an amp). Basically that means it will activate from the static electricity resulting from simple movements or the static in the air in a cool dry room. Secondly, the board is completely covered in glue, which allows random current to move anywhere it wants. Next is the claim that it “self adjusts”. This is simply not possible. There is no mechanism to allow adjustment. There is only a power source, a switch, and a simple resistor to regulate the charge flowing to the lights. There is no potentiometer or diode or any other means of changing levels of current. This machine is basically a Maglite® in a hockey puck shaped case.” – Prescott Schaffer, Avionics Technician. [15]

VD8Conclusion

This is a small device that lights up when a static charge is detected. It’s extremely sensitive, actually too sensitive. It will easily pick up charges built up on the human body & clothing, as well as static within the air (especially cool, dry air). There’s nothing within the device to check the surrounding conditions or give accurate measurements except for Static/No Static detected. The LED array is pretty, but redundant on the device since they all signify the exact same thing.Only two lights are needed for this type of device; power ON indicator & static charge detected. The device retails for $75. While researching the Vortex Dome, I came across a similar device using the same amplifier [8]. This similar device was one anyone could build at home for under $10, and did the same thing the Vortex Dome does. I can’t see any reason to spend an extra $65, when most paranormal groups are already on a tight budget.

Does it detect static charges? Yes…but that’s it. It does NOT detect paranormal activity. The only link between static electricity and paranormal activity is through speculation & assumption. There is not one shred of valid scientific research available to support this idea. If there is, please forward it to me. We must also keep in mind that cool, dry weather increases static due to less humidity. This holds true for cold, dry areas such as basements, attics, prisons, old hospitals, forts, etc. – basically a good percentage of allegedly “haunted” locations that this device will undoubtedly be used in. It is most likely that the people using this device, are also the cause of its LEDs flashing.

However, trying new ideas has always been something I’ve supported. And if it’s truly believed that static electricity has something to do with paranormal activity, then I would suggest some changes. First, it needs the ability to give an accurate reading on the amount of voltage being detected. Second, a display that can give a readout of what’s being detected. An array of lights would need several different sized resistors on each LED in order to give just a general reading (ie. green = 1 to 10 volts. Think K2 meter) Third, a data logger to record Date/Time/Humidity of each detection. Fourth, a more informed information sheet to be sent along with the device, including specs. And finally, in order to better interpret the data one wishes to acquire, a better understanding of the equipment is needed before such a device is released for sale to the public. In fact, knowing how to properly operate any device – it’s basic functions, limits, ranges, flaws, etc. – is essential to proper collection of valid data.

*Special Thanks to those who provided feedback and additional information – Mitch Silverstein, Prescott Schaffer, Noah Leigh, and Tim Vickers*

References

1. Vortex Ghost Gear. 2007. http://youtu.be/m5kVrXxPFP8

2. Vortex Ghost Gear. “The Vortex Dome”. October 6, 2014. http://youtu.be/m5kVrXxPFP8

3. Instructions sheet included with The Vortex Dome.

4. Changzhou Yaluoke Machinery Co.,Ltd. “ What is the working principle of yaluoke coating machinme?” October 13, 2014 http://www.china-zincflakeequipment.com/index.php?route=information/news&news_id=8

5. The Ghost Hunter Store. Website accessed January 31, 2015. http://theghosthunterstore.com/shop/the-vortex-dome/

6. Ingham, Richard. “Trib-electric,’ the buzzword of the future”. March 4, 2014 http://phys.org/news/2014-03-tribo-electric-buzzword-future.html#jCp

7. “Kids science: Static Electricity.” Ducksters. Technological Solutions, Inc. (TSI), Feb. 2015. Web. 31 Feb. 2015. http://www.ducksters.com/science/static_electricity.php

8. Beaty, William J. “RIDICULOUSLY SENSITIVE ELECTRIC CHARGE DETECTOR”. 1987
http://amasci.com/emotor/chargdet.html

9. Manchester Paranormal Society. “Vortex Ghost Gear Static Dome in Action”. Published November 16, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5ynhU0lNxQ

10. Stephens, Ron. Video from Burlington Library. Posted January 23, 2015 @ 1:45pm. https://www.facebook.com/ron.stephens.5070?fref=ufi&pnref=story

11. Personal conversation with Bob Christopher at a paranormal event. The Library Company Burlington City. 2014

12. Zimmermann, Kim Ann. July 10, 2012. “What is a Scientific Theory?” http://www.livescience.com/21491-what-is-a-scientific-theory-definition-of-theory.html

13. “How Does Static Electricity Work?”. June 1, 2011.Everyday Mysteries: Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/static.html

14. Bubenik, George A. September 1, 2013. “Why do humans get “goosebumps” when they are cold, or under other circumstances?”. Scientific America. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-humans-get-goosebu/

15. Personal correspondance with Prescott Scheafer, Avionics Technician

16. Smallwood, Dr. Jeremy. January 23, 2006. “What is the average static shock (in volts) that you get from touching a doorknob?“. Static Consultants Notebook. http://electrostaticsolutions.blogspot.com/2006/01/what-is-average-static-shock-in-volts.html

17. Rountree, David M. 2010. Paranormal Technology: Understanding the Science of Ghost Hunting iUniverse, Inc. Bloomington, IN.

18. Beaty, William J. BSEE. 1999. “Static Electricity” means “High Voltage” Measuring your body-voltage. http://amasci.com/emotor/voltmeas.html

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6 thoughts on “Testing the Vortex Dome

  1. Beverley Washup

    of course like your website however you need to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I to find it very troublesome to tell the truth on the other hand I will definitely come again again.

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  2. John Swetonic

    I skimmed over this and saw so many spelling errors, and don’t know if this was mentioned, but the 18 pin integrated circuit chip is an LM3914/3915/3916 dot bar display driver. I experiment with these quite a lot. The FET Field Effect Transistor circuits that I have experimented with seem to be VERY UNSTABLE. These chips sell for $2.36 a piece and some places cheaper. I hope you didn’t spend a lot of money on this crap…

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  3. John Swetonic

    Please forgive me for my earlier comment about the spelling. I meant to say that I see quite a lot of it on electronics sites and got mixed up trying to answer two different sites at the same time.Once again, my apologies. PLEASE contact me before you by junk novelties like this thing. I mentioned the LM3914/15/16 Dot Bar Display Driver. All the thing does is take a varying voltage and light up to 10 LEDS in sequence. Contact me if you want more info. The circuit board had so much glue on it there’s NO WAY ANY circuit would have worked anyway. It was home made by a SLOPPY amateur…

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