More About Sam Barros and PowerLabs

About PowerLabs:

“I can see further, for I stand on the shoulders of Giants.” — Sir. Isaac Newton.

Every aspect of our lives in today’s society is in some way, shape or form assisted, improved, or made possible by science and technology. Today we live longer because medicine prevents or cures our illnesses and educates and assists us in living healthier. We travel further, faster and more often because engineering provides us with the means to do so. We communicate and do business globally because of advancements in electronic communications. The very fact that I am able to communicate with you this moment has far less to do with my own efforts than it does with the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people who created and maintain this incredibly versatile infrastructure that we have grown to use – internet –

For as long as I can remember science has fascinated me in every aspect of it. From sticking a hair pin into an electrical socket at age 3 to find out what was it that came out from that mysterious place that allowed everything in the house to run, breaking my toys apart at age 7 to find out how they worked, to enrolling in an engineering degree so that I can practice science at a professional level, my life has largely been a never ending quest to learn and practice science. Unfortunately individuals with a passion for knowledge such as myself are seldom found: This page is my medium for sharing my ideas and interests with the few who share such interests; And just as I learned and continue to learn much from others before me, I hereby offer people some of my acquired knowledge, hoping that others will also benefit from my work and take it to greater heights than I have been able to. Or at least derive some enjoyment and learn to appreciate some of the things I do. All I ask is that you credit me for it, and do not copy this content and display it on other websites; link to this site instead.
PowerLabs began as a computer class high school assignment in 1999: “Create A Webpage”. Since its modest beginnings from photos I took of microwaving CDs and I have spent the past 10 years working on and and off updating this page with new and better content, and also spending thousands of dollars maintaining it online under high bandwidth servers (annual traffic has exceeded one terabyte every year since 2003!). It appears as though finally my efforts are paying off; this page currently receives nearly fifty thousand visitors in a month, and as a result I have been contacted by people from all around the world with comments, suggestions, ideas, and some times even job offers, sponsorships and media attention. The page has been featured on nationally and internationally published newspapers and magazines and I have had the opportunity to showcase some of my research to the world through major television networks. You can read more about the publicity this page has generated under the publicity page.

About Sam Barros

Everything we have and do today we owe to those who worked before us. We may not live in a perfect world but few would argue that things today aren’t any better than they were before. And similarly, I believe that we owe to our antecessors to take their work even further, and make the world we live in even better, through scientific progress. The idea of progress -in whatever aspect of science I happen to work in- is what I want to base my life’s works on. My father started off as a cashier at a bank, and over several years worked his way up to becoming the Director of that bank. Once I congratulated him and said that I too hoped some day to achieve the kind of success he had in his professional life. He told me I could not hope for that, because when he began working he started at the bottom working to pay his way through school; when I started my career I did so already much further than he started, and as such I have to accomplish much more than he did. And I will. I owe it to everyone who has created the scientific ideas and knowledge which allows me to do the things I do. I owe it to my parents, and, most important of all, I owe it to myself. And not a day goes by that I don’t think about that.

I was born on February 13th 1982 in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Both my parents worked for the national bank of Brazil and I spent the first 12 years of my life living in Brasilia, going to a couple different private schools and performing my first experiments ever, mostly in the areas of chemistry and electricity. As a child, and even today, I have always been extremely curious; when I was 3 years old I somehow I managed to get shocked by an electrical outlet and nearly got myself killed… At age 7, I stuck a bent piece of wire into an electric socket and watched in bewilderment as the wire instantly exploded and blackened the wall (and my fingers) around it… I have always been fascinated with electricity, but I think it was at that moment that I started really admiring it. This admiration continues to this day and I am able to spend a night awake just watching a thunderstorm, or spend hours staring at a plasma display… By that age I was also taking apart anything I could get my hands on: toys, electric showers, home appliances, etc… I was fascinated by how everything worked and tried to understand each mechanism involved… I rarely managed to put them back together, instead, I kept their parts for later use… Around that time I started making my own devices too… By age 8 I was already experimenting with electromagnets and electric motors, building simple devices such as doorbell ringers and fans…

Taking another leap in time I go to the time when I was 11 years old… By then I had obtained my first chemistry set and had started venturing in the realms of chemistry… I had also recently started experimenting more seriously with electricity and electric circuits, etching my own printed circuit boards and building simple electronic devices from plans I found in electronic magazines (which I had been reading for quite some time). It was then that I built my first real high voltage device: An ignition coil driver… Despite only running at 30 watts, it was a pulsed power system, so it could deliver 30Kilovolt pulses of equal energy level to a small stun gun… Of course, it was only a matter of time before I (then inexperienced with high voltage) got myself shocked with it… By that time I was using it to do silly things, like burning insects or lighting fluorescent lamps from a distance, and some of the shocks I received were severe enough to throw me across the room… At one time I was demonstrating the potential lightning could have to power cities with electricity at a science fair: I had a 1-meter squared model of a small city, with houses, lamp posts, and lights everywhere. Over the city there was a cotton cloud with a H.V. wire inside it, to produce the discharge that struck the lightning rod and lit all the lamps in the city.. The cloud was made of cotton, and, sure enough, it caught fire… Unbeknownst to me at the time, fire is an excellent conductor of high voltage electricity, so, when I attempted to put it out, an electric spark leaped to my hand and, by reflex, I jumped back. The people at the science fair got to watch me get shocked, hit my head on the wall, and have my project burn down. I did rebuild the project, and won the science fair, but more importantly I learned a lesson about safety that I remember vividly to this day.

I was afraid of high voltage for a while after that, but it didn’t stop me from experimenting: It simply made me more cautious, and, since that one shock I have rarely ever had any incidents, let alone accidents working with electricity and high voltage.

That project was one of many I have entered into science fairs since I was 9 years old. At that age I started competing (and winning) on every single science fair I could enter. I saw it as a chance to express myself and meet people interested on my projects, and my parents saw my success as a reason to encourage me and fund my increasingly complex projects. At age 13 my family moved to Holland, and I transferred to the European School of Bergen, in Holland (the place where I learned English, French, Spanish, and some Dutch to complement the Portuguese I already spoke at home, as well as from where had a chance to live in France for some time, and travel almost all of Europe with my parents). From there I continued participating their local science fairs and when I won my second local prize with a pneumatic motor project the school decided to enter me for a Dutch science fair (The Petten Prize). I came first in both years I participated it (one time I came first AND second place with two projects). From there I was given the chance to participate in an European Science fair, the Regional JSHS (Junior Science and Humanities Symposia) in Munich 1998. To my surprise, I came first (laureate) and was automatically entered into two other science fairs: The International JSHS, competing with the first place of every state in the US, plus Europe, where I came third (after having to type my entire presentation on the flight on the way to Phoenix because I lost the original), and the TMR’s Young Scientist Of The Year contest (in Porto, Portugal, for both Highschool students and college undergraduates), where, although I didn’t make it into the top 3, I still did very well overall. My stand was the busiest one in the whole conventions center (look at the picture below to see why! The smoke is liquid nitrogen, there used to power my prototype engine).

I was also invited to Intel’s International Science fair (the largest one of it’s kind in the world), but it happened at the time I was changing schools to get into the International Baccalaureate program, and I wasn’t able to go (my other school wasn’t affiliated to these fairs).

As my knowledge and skills continued to grow fed by my constant reading of any scientific book or science related magazine I could lay my hands on, and by my constant experimenting which brought new ideas and questions for me to research upon, my experiments began to grow in magnitude. Then (as now), funding became a real problem as I would often have several projects running in parallel and work on them as money and parts became available. One of those projects in 1998 was high efficiency rocket research. It started off with model rockets, and then went onto homebuilt rocket motors. First a small hybrid prototype (bench top, nitrous oxide/rubber), than a larger butane/propane/nitrous oxide engine which produced several mach diamonds on its exhaust and was loud enough to have the windows in the garage shake while it was running over the bench. Then, realizing that my resources would not allow liquid or hybrid engines to be produced light enough for fly, I started experimenting with solid fuelled rocket engines. First sugar/potassium nitrate, than perchlorates, metal powders, nitrocellulose, double base powders, and so on. These extremely small prototypes (usually built around 1cm diameter brass tubes) produced incredible thrust for their size, and with ever increasing performance, I started looking into military rocket patents. It was working with one such high performance missile fuel containing a high explosive combustion rate accelerant, that I suffered my first and last accident whilst working in the lab. An extremely small amount of fuel detonated during testing phase  and cost me my first hospital visit, complete with overnight stay, micro surgery, some nice scars on my hand and a ride to the police station. I was very fortunate not to have lost sight or any limbs and became extremely careful after that, discarding experiments that were too dangerous (I now see that in my younger years I did not make that distinction, and was very fortunate not to have had another, perhaps much more serious accident).

Nowadays I am a Research Engineer working for a small company in the field of alternative fuels. I guess I still haven’t quite figured out what I want to do with my carrer: I love alternative fuels, but I also loved working in Special Effects, loved working for Television, and would love to work on electromagnetic propulsion. Still, I have been able to accomplish a lot of what I wanted to do with my own funds and on my own spare time, so the concern of landing a job that best matches my current interests at the time, whatever those may be, has become somewhat secondary to having a job that provides me with the income I need to fund those projects… For now I can at least say that I am very proud of what I have done so far… There may have been mistakes and incidents, but it was fun, exciting and rewarding, and had I been given the chance, I would do it all again!

On a more personal note, I have also done five years of Karate, 4 years of Judo, 1 year of Gymnastics. I thoroughly enjoy martial arts for the discipline and focus they give to the body and mind. I was going to get my purple belt by the time I left to Holland, but there I had to stop my lessons and only resumed them recently. I am a big fan of extreme sports, doing mountain biking over summer, snowboarding / skiing in winter and just about anything else when I get the chance (water ski, jet skis, snowmobiles, motorbikes, go karts, etc). I’m not big on team sports, but I do enjoy Volleyball and frisbee. I am outgoing and love a good party (I was known on a name basis on several dance clubs in Sao Paulo), but tend sometimes to speak in scientific terms and with a certain indifference which makes many people think of me as being arrogant, which is obviously not true. I do have a big ego though, probably because throughout my life people have been praising me so much for my skills and accomplishments that I took their word for it. I don’t however let it make me overconfident so that it doesn’t hurt my work; when it comes to my devices, I am usually pessimistic, as the pessimist is never disappointed!

I currently live in New Jersey, USA, and can be seen driving my supercharged black Corvette back and forth to work every day, usually over the speed limit 🙂 I can always be reached through my e-mail address: .

Sam Barros' Career (So Far!):


2004: Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee Power Station – Systems Engineer Co-Op
My first job ever was a Co-Op (a paid internship related to my field of study) at a Nuclear Power Station. It was fascinating to learn about nuclear power, and to have full access to virtually all areas of the powerplant. My job tasks included in-field measurements such as ultrasonic pipe wall thickness for evaluation of microbial induced corrosion (MIC) and ultrasonic flow measurements for pump performance metering, data trending, access programming and related engineering tasks. One of the highlights is pictured on the left: I entered the reactor drywell as part of a team involved in repairing one of the water recirculation pump seals.

2005 – 2007 (Part time) and 2007 – 2008 (Full Time): KVA Effects – Special Effects Engineer
My second job was as a Special Effects Engineer: KVA is the only company in the world with the experience -and isurance- to perform high voltage special effects, and as their only full-time Engineer at the time I worked tasks as varied as sales, installation, operation and maintenance of various High Voltage equipment for special effects in movies, theater and shows in the US and abroad. Some highlights below:

Summer 2005: Universal Studios Hollywood: 

Produced documentation and worked as technical assistant in the installation and tuning of a 2MV Tesla Coil by KVA Effects in the attraction Fear Factor Live. This attraction ran for several years, won numerous awards, and was one of the most popular ones at Universal Studios. It was also the first and only UL-Certified Tesla Coil installation in the world at the time!

Summer 2006 Mercedes Benz / KVA Effects: Assisted in the preparations, installation, grounding, testing and electromagnetic iterference troubleshooting for the electrical stunt for the unveiling of the new E-Class at the 2006 New York International Auto Show (NYIAS).
Some of the highlights on this show included the fact that it was the first time we really had the opportunity to study the Electromagnetic Interference caused by Tesla Coils on sensitive equipment such as intelligent lighting. We made some very interesting discoveries partaining to how the interference was caused and how it could me minimised. The show itself was also spectacular.

2007: Hero Honda (Agra, India): 

This was my first experience working abroad. Working in India was… Difficult. The incompetence and lack of organization of the support crew there made everything 10 times harder than it had to be. Holes were dug by hand, trusses were put up with bamboo, welding was done bare handed and with no eye protection and the one thing we absolutely needed: a 60Hz power generator, was nowhere to be found.
 We came through and managed to pull off the stunt with minutes to spare after I found a way to get a 50Hz generator to run at 60Hz, but it was rough. Highlights included seeing the Taj Mahal, and then leaving India at the end of the show 😉

2008: Andy Lau Wonderful World Concert:

Probably the most incredible work I have ever been involved in. I flew to Hong Kong and met with Singer/Actor/Performer Andy Lau and his production team and devised the stunt seen pictured on the left: a one-of-a-kind, never before seen high voltage stunt where Andy received a 20foot long, 7 million volt electric arc from a massive tesla coil and then sent it out to 3 other performers dancing around him. This was a part of the “Worlderful World” concert tour and sold out 50,000 seats for 18 days. After designing the stunt, installing it along with another KVA technician, tuning the Tesla Coil, running the ground and testing everything, I personally tried out Andy’s costume and one of the performers’ costumes to make sure it was safe.
I will never forget what it was like seeing the crowd’s reaction every time the lightning bolt hit the stage. This was a perfect ending to my work at KVA. I quit a few months later having received a more lucrative job offer in the energy field:

2008 – Present: Nostrum Energy – Research Engineer / Project Manager:
My current job title is “Project Manager”, although my actual function is that of a Research Engineer as I am responsible for designing and performing experiments, gathering data and developing alternative fuels and power generation technology based on novel experimental designs being developed in an international team environment. Also involved in patenting various technologies alongside a team of attorneys.

For more of my accomplishments check out my Science Awards Page!
Want to see more pictures of me?

App5c Zoran

RailGuns are expensive! This project was made possible by the generous contributions of my sponsors. Would you like to sponsor PowerLabs research? Please donate *any* amount. Every little bit helps and you can be sure your money will be put to good use 🙂