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Electricity: Demonstrating Static Electricity

Sunshine State Standards: SC.B.1.2 SC.H.1.2 SC.H.2.2

Materials:

  • sheet of clear acrylic plastic 1 ft square
  • piece of wool cloth or fur
  • supports 1 to 2 inches tall (ex. tuna cans)
  • piece of white paper 11X17
  • handful of tiny bits of stuff (grains of rice, puffed rice, spices or bits of styrofoam. Aluminized ceiling glitter works also well for this snack.

To Know:
You can see the effects of static electricity right in your own home.

  • Static electricity makes the sparks when you are combing your hair on a cold day.
  • Static electricity makes the sparks when you pull two blankets apart.
  • When you rub a balloon on your shirt static electricity makes the balloon stick to the wall.

To Do and Notice:

  • Place the 11X17 piece of paper on a table.
  • Place the supports on the paper beneath the four corners of the plastic.
  • Now scatter the tiny bits of stuff you collected under the plastic.
  • You can charge the plastic by rubbing it vigorously with the piece of wool cloth or fur.
  • Notice that the tiny bits of stuff…we will call them fleas, are dancing.
  • You can try other types of materials to charge the plastic and to use as fleas.
  • To charge the plastic, try using the fur, your hand or maybe paper.
  • Try using coffee grounds, coconut or pieces of feathers to use under the plastic.
  • Also try placing the plastic higher using (4) taller cans at each corner. What happens? Why?

What’s Happening?

  • Both the plastic and the fleas start out electrically neutral.
  • Electrically neutral means the items have an equal number of positive and negative charges.
  • When you rub the wool cloth on the plastic cover, the cloth is transferring negative charges to the plastic.
  • The negative charges polarize the fleas, attracting the positive charges to the tops of each of the fleas and pushing the negative charges to the bottom.
  • The negative plastic cover is strongly attracted to the positive charge that is concentrated at the top of each flea and gets stronger as you increase the charge by continuing to rub the plastic cover.
  • This attraction makes the fleas jump to the underside of the plastic.
  • Why do the fleas fall quickly back down to the paper?
  • When the fleas touch the plastic, some of the negative charge rubs off on the fleas. This causes the fleas to become electrically neutral.
  • Because the fleas still have an excess of negative charge the plastic repels the fleas and throws them back down to the paper. Slowly the excess negative charge drains from the fleas and render them neutral again. Then the polarization of the flea will start all over as the positive charge on top of the flea becomes stronger and eventually the flea will jump to the plastic again

Extensions:

  • At night when the lights are out go on a static electricity safari. Look for the tiny little sparks between blankets, on your pet’s hair and between your slipper and the carpet.

Learn more…

Developed by the GE Volunteers in partnership with the Museum of Arts and Sciences (MOAS) – Daytona Beach, FL