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Semyon Davidovich Kirlian

Semyon Davidovich Kirlian (Russian: - 3 Development of Kirlian photog ; Armenian: ; Februraphy

ary 20, 1898 April 4, 1978) was a Russian inventor
and researcher of Armenian descent, who along with his
wife Valentina Khrisanovna Kirlian (Russian: Over the next ten years he and his wife developed and per ; died 1972), a teacher and jour- fected apparatus for what we now call Kirlian photography. They employed a high-frequency oscillator or spark
nalist, discovered and developed Kirlian photography.
generator that operated at 75 to 200 kHz.

Gradually the Kirlians activity began to attract attention

from professional scientists. Kirlian made controversial
claims that the image he was studying might be compared with the human aura. An experiment advanced
as evidence of energy elds generated by living entities
involves taking Kirlian contact photographs of a picked
leaf at set periods, its gradual withering being said to correspond with a decline in the strength of the aura. The
Kirlians made many photographs of the leaves of various
plants; by 1949, it was determined that Kirlian photography could detect incipient plant disease that was not otherwise detectable. In the same year, the Kirlians received
a Soviet patent on their basic device, a method of photographing by means of high-frequency currents. Experimenting further upon themselves, the Kirlians acquired
the rst results showing that Kirlian photography could
provide an index of a persons physical health, and could
illuminate the acupuncture points of the human body.

Early life

Kirlian was born in Yekaterinodar, now Krasnodar,

Russia in an Armenian family. He possessed an early
interest in, and aptitude for, work with electricity. Just
before the Russian Revolution of 1917, Kirlian attended
a conference in his home city at which Nikola Tesla gave
talks and demonstrations; Tesla was one of Kirlians predecessors in the eld of corona discharge photography.
In the 1930s Kirlian earned his living as an electrician
in Krasnodar, near the eastern coast of the Black Sea in
southern Russiathen the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (Russian SFSR), part of the Soviet Union.
He married Valentina Khrisanovna in 1930.

3.1 Torn leaf experiment

A typical demonstration used as evidence for the existence of these energy elds involved taking Kirlian photographs of a picked leaf at set intervals. The gradual
withering of the leaf was thought to correspond with a
decline in the strength of the aura. In some experiments,
if a section of a leaf was torn away after the rst photograph, a faint image of the missing section would sometimes remain when a second photograph was taken. If the
imaging surface is cleaned of contaminants and residual
moisture before the second image is taken, then no image
of the missing section would appear.[1]

First discoveries

By 1939 Kirlian had acquired a reputation as the best local resource for repairing electrical equipment, and was
regularly called upon to x the apparatus of scientists and
laboratories in the area. In that year, he happened to witness a demonstration of a high-frequency d'Arsonval electrotherapy device. He noticed that there was a small ash
of light between the machines electrodes and the patients
skin, and wondered if he would be able to photograph
it. (Kirlian was not the rst person to witness this phenomenon, though the urge to photograph and investigate
it seems to have been original with him.) Experimenting
with similar equipment, he replaced glass electrodes with
metal substitutes to take photographs in visible light; at
the price of a severe electrical burn, he was able to take
an unusual and striking photograph of an apparent energy
discharge around his own hand.

The living aura theory is at least partially repudiated

by demonstrating that leaf moisture content has a pronounced eect on the electric discharge coronas; more
moisture creates larger, more dynamic corona discharges.
As the leaf dehydrates, the coronas will naturally decrease
in variability and intensity. As a result, the changing water content of the leaf can aect the so-called Kirlian
aura. Kirlians experiments did not provide evidence for
an energy eld other than the electric elds produced by

chemical processes, and the streaming process of coronal

The coronal discharges identied as Kirlian auras are the
result of stochastic electric ionization processes, and are
greatly aected by many factors, including the voltage
and frequency of the stimulus, the pressure with which
a person or object touches the imaging surface, the local humidity around the object being imaged, how well
grounded the person or object is, and other local factors
aecting the conductivity of the person or object being
imaged. Oils, sweat, bacteria, and other ionizing contaminants found on living tissues can also aect the resulting

Widespread recognition

It was not until the early 1960s, however, that the Kirlians
eorts attracted widespread recognition and ocial support, once popular journalists wrote a series of newspaper
and magazine articles about Kirlian photography. The
Kirlians were awarded a pension and were provided with
a pleasant new apartment and a well-equipped laboratory
in Krasnodar. Their rst scientic paper on Kirlian photography was published in 1961, in the (Russian) Journal
of Scientic and Applied Photography. Scientic institutions around the Soviet Union were set to work on Kirlian
photography in 1962. The rst appearance in the US is
unknown, but an educational lm about Kirlian photography and energy emissions from living things was seen
in a Southern California elementary school about 1964.

In popular culture

In Michael Scotts bestselling novel The Alchemyst, the

protagonist, Nicholas Flamel, notes that the aura has been
photographed by the Kirlians.
The IDM artist Benn Jordan, aka "The Flashbulb, wrote
a string of songs on various albums that refer to Kirlian
in the title.
Kirlian photography plays a major part in Kerryn Oords
Feng Shui for the Soul, in Grantville Gazette VI.

S.D. Kirlian and V. Kirlian, Photography and Visual Observation by Means of High-Frequency Currents, Journal of Scientic and Applied Photography, Vol. 6 No. 6.
Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder, Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain (Englewwod Clis,
New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, 1970), pp. 198209,
219-26, 401-3.


[1] Kirlian photography. An Encyclopedia of Claims,

Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. James
Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved 2008-10-14.,
derived from:
*Randi, James (1997). An Encyclopedia of Claims,
Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. St.
Martins Grin. ISBN 0-312-15119-5.
[2] Boyers, David G.; Tiller, William A. (July 1973).
Corona discharge photography. Journal of Applied
Physics 44 (7): 31023112. doi:10.1063/1.1662715.
[3] Opalinski, John, Kirliantype images and the transport
of thinlm materials in highvoltage corona discharges,
Journal of Applied Physics, Vol 50, Issue 1, pp 498504, Jan 1979. Abstract:
[4] The Kirlian Technique: Controlling the Wild Cards. The
Kirlian eect not only is explainable by natural processes;
it also varies according to at least six physical parameters.
Arleen J. Watkins and Williams S. Bickel, The Skeptical
Inquirer 13:172-184, 1989.
[5] Carroll, Robert Todd (2003). The Skeptics Dictionary:
A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and
Dangerous Delusions. Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley &
Sons. pp. 189190. ISBN 978-0471272427.

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