Ion traps capable of trapping charged particles of dust can be made at home with very little effort. As an example, in the video below I use two spoons and a loop of wire to trap particles of cornstarch (which was simply a convenient source of dust, I've also trapped powdered sugar, baking soda, and dirt swept off a workbench). The two spoons attach to one end of a high voltage transformer (60Hz at roughly 3kV), and the loop of wire attaches to the other end of the transformer. Despite the simplicity of this experiment, I've yet to find any other instances of hobbyists online making ion traps. Original credit goes to Dave Schuster ( for getting me interested in ion traps.

An alternate geometry is the linear quadrupole trap, shown below. This particular trap is enclosed in a clear box, to protect the trapped dust from air currents. By tilting the trap when populated with dust, gravity will cause the dust to fall to one end or the other. By placing end caps that are the same polarity as the charge on the dust (using a high voltage DC supply), the dust will be fully confined. An interesting way to play with the dust is to connect a wire to a high voltage DC supply, and bring the wire close to the particles inside the trap. If the polarity is opposite as the charge on the dust, it will attract and suck up the particles. A wire with the same polarity will repel the particles, and using two wires of the same polarity on either end of the dust "crystal" will allow you to squish the particles closer together. Upon removing the wires, the crystal will vibrate (a "phonon"!).

It would be interesting to see one of these traps scaled to trap larger particles such as styrofoam balls. An excellent resource for the operating principles of ion traps is the transcript from Wolfgang Paul's Nobel lecture, available at