(CNN)A team of researchers from the University of Geneva has hauled a huge laser atop a mountain to shoot it at the sky, and act as a high-tech lightning rod.
The team is led by Jean-Pierre Wolf, a Swiss physicist who's been working with laser for more than 20 years and has been particularly fascinated with attempting to control the weather with it.
Laser creates very narrow, high-energy beams of light. Its applications range from cutting diamonds to surgery to reading barcodes, and Wolf believes he can add another to the list: protecting us from lightning.
He's leading an EU-funded consortium which includes universities in Paris and Lausanne, as well as rocket manufacturer ArianeGroup and the maker of the laser, German high-tech company Trumpf. After a year of delays due to the pandemic, the laser has been transported to the summit of Säntis, a mountain in the Swiss alps with an elevation of 2,500 meters (8,200 feet).
"This is one of the places in Europe that's struck by lightning the most," explained Wolf. "There is a radio transmission tower there which gets struck 100 to 400 times a year. So it's an ideal place to make our proof-of-concept experiments."
Lightning forms when turbulent air within a thundercloud violently tosses around ice crystals and water droplets, stripping electrons from their atoms and creating separate zones with opposite electric charges.
These electric fields can become very strong, and because opposite charges attract, they can connect through a discharge of electricity -- what we call lightning.
The laser mimics and enhances this natural scenario by generating an electric field so strong that it rips electrons off their atoms directly, setting up the opposite charges that are necessary for lightning to form.
The idea is to make the clouds discharge lightning in a controlled way. "That's why we call it a laser lightning rod," said Wolf.
The beam will run alongside the existing transmission tower -- which is over 120 meters (about 400 feet) tall.