Static Electricity

Static electricity is usually caused by two objects rubbing together. 

It works because everything is made of atoms.  Atoms are made of

electrons which have a negative charge, protons which have a

positive charge and neutrons which have a neutral charge.

All things are made of atoms, so all things are made of charges.

   Usually there are an equal number of electrons and protons

which gives an object a neutral charge.  In an atom the protons

are attracted to the electrons and vice versa because opposites attract.

Electrons will repel electrons and protons will repel protons because like charges will repel each other. 

All things are made of atoms, so all things are made of charges.   Usually there are an equal number of electrons and protons which gives an object a neutral charge.

But…. Static electricity is caused by an imbalance of those charges.   Have you ever jumped on a trampoline with socks on and then touched the metal frame?  Or has your brother rubbed his socked feet on a carpet and then shocked you on purpose?  Well that is static electricity.

These charges can build up on the surface of an object until they find a way to be released or discharged. One way to discharge them is through a circuit.

When you jump on a trampoline or rub your socks on a carpet, you build up extra electrons and they will discharge when you touch something which will conduct electricity. 

Hair standing up like this is caused by each hair having the same charge as each other so they repel each other.   The charge build up is caused by friction between the little boys socks and the tramopline surface.  When the touches his father's finger, the charges discharge and they both get a shock.

If you rub a balloon on your jumper it will stick to the wall, if you rub it on your hair it will make your hair stand up.

When you rub a balloon against your clothes and it sticks to the wall, you are adding a surplus of electrons (negative charges) to the surface of the balloon. The wall is now more positively charged than the balloon. As the two come in contact, the balloon will stick because opposites attract.

Lightning is caused by an electrical discharge of electrons moving very quickly from one place to another. These electrons move so quickly that they superheat the air around them causing it to glow. Thunderstorms are created by strong rising air currents which create winds with speeds of 80KM/hr and this causes Cumulonimbus clouds to form. Warm air flowing upwards and cool are flowing downwards creates turbulence in the clouds because of the effects of water particles mixing with ice particles.   Large and small particles are made and this makes electrical charges in the clouds.  Large particles will have a negative charge and small particles will have a positive charge. 

Negatively charged particles tend to collect at the bottom of the cloud and positively charged particles at the top.   The electrons need to be neutralised so the air forms a plasma and will direct the electrons to the earth – it is attracted to positively charged areas, and that’s what makes lightening.

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All images sourced from unless otherwise stated