What You Do:
- Have your child pierce the center of the pie plate with a thumbtack from the bottom up.
- Help him spike the bottom of the pen on top of the thumbtack. Glue it in place so it stands straight up.
- Ask him to rub the wool sock back and forth across the stryofoam to begin creating a charge.
- Now, have him grab the pen and treat it like a handle to lift the plate carefully on top of the Styrofoam. Make sure nobody touches the pie plate. If they do, the experiment won't work.
- Make sure the room is completely dark. Close all curtains, and shut off all the lights. Get ready for the lightning!
- Have your child choose who he wants to strike with his self-made "lightning." His chosen assistant will slowly bring her finger closer and closer to the aluminum plate. Then...ZAP!
- A small bolt of lightning should be visible to all, and whoever touched the pan will have felt a tiny spark. It will be audible if everyone is very quiet.
- Explain to your child that when he rubs a sock on Styrofoam, he created static electricity. This is what happens when air moves inside clouds making ice and water droplets rub together. The positive electrical charge floats up to the top of clouds, while the negative charges stay at the bottom of clouds. This process causes an unstable separation of electrical charges and lightning is what equalizes the charges so they become balanced.
While real lightning is obviously much more powerful, this mini lightning bolt works on the same principal. The sock and Styrofoam create static electricity. The spark that jumps from the pie plate is like lightning, only much, much smaller in scale.