Static Electricity Experiments

Before you read this you should understand Atomic structure and Static Electricity

In this science article we learn more about static electricity. We look at static electricity simulations and static electricity experiments that we could carry out in the classroom.

Science experiments- static electricity simulations

If you click on this link you will find a static electricity simulation which shows how the forces of friction create static electricity after a balloon is rubbed against a woollen jumper.

static electricity experiment- rubbing balloon with jumper and sticking to wall

Click on image for slide show

This simulation only shows the negative and positive electrical charges of a few atoms, when in reality there would be billions of atoms. However the simulation does give you an understanding of what happens to atoms when the forces of friction get to work and create static electricity.

It is important to remember that it is only the electrons orbiting the nuclei of atoms that move and attach themselves to different atoms. The protons and neutrons of each atom stay in the same place.

  • What happens when you rub a jumper with a balloon? (ie apply a frictional force)

balloon rubbed on woollen jumper showing migration of atoms

  • Now what happens when the balloon is placed up against a wall? (no frictional force used)

negatively charged balloon sticks to a positively charged wall.

It is important to point out that the build up of negatively charged electrons in the balloon is not great enough for the balloon’s electrons to jump from the balloon to the wall. Jumping onto the wall from the balloon would be called an ‘electrical discharge’ which might typically be accompanied by ‘sparks’!

In any case, brick walls are not good conductors of electrons. Electrons do not LOVE brick walls the same way that electrons LOVE metal door handles! Electrons do not show any interest in leaping from the balloon into the brick wall!

  • To help your understanding you can answer some concept questions about the electrical forces which take place in this balloon simulation. (the answers to the concept questions are here)

If you click on this link you will find an interactive simulation which models how someone can receive an electric shock from a metal door handle after walking across a carpet.

receiving an electric shock from a metal door handle after walking across a carpet

As ‘John Travoltage’ walks across the carpet, the friction between his shoes and the carpet leads to negatively charged electrons migrating from atoms in the carpet to atoms in his body.

John Travoltage- friction with carpet , electrons migrate into body

Metal is a good conductor of electricity. Being a ‘good conductor’ means that electrons LOVE metal objects. The massive number of electrons now present in John Travoltage’s body jump onto the metal door handle as he touches it. This ‘discharge’ of electrons causes sparks to fly and gives John Travoltage an electric shock. Ouch!

John Travoltage electric shock from door handle afer electrons from body jump to door handle

So much for all the theory! Let’s try a few science experiments! Here are some ideas:

More Science experiments- static electricity

  • At Colorado4h you can try these science experiments: ‘charged balloons’, ‘separate salt and pepper’ and ‘bubble fun’.
  • At the Exploratorium you can try the ‘Soda Can Roll’ and making lightning with a ‘Super Sparker’
  • At Science Buddies you are able to make an ‘electroscope’ which tests the presence of ‘static electricity’ in different materials.
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