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Static Electricity Project

based on 6 ratings
Author: Janice VanCleave

So You Want to Do a Project about Static Electricity!

Let's Explore

Purpose

To demonstrate the effect of static electricity.

Materials

  • 5 sheets of typing paper
  • One-hole paper punch
  • 4 9-inch (23-cm) round balloons
  • Marker
  • Drawing compass
  • Wool scarf
  • Timer

Procedure

Pickup!

  1. Inflate each balloon to about the size of a grapefruit and tie it. The balloons should all be the same size, and each should be easily held in one hand. With the marker, number the balloons 1 to 4.
  2. Use the compass to draw a 6-inch (15-cm) -diameter circle in the center of each of the four remaining papers. Number the papers 1 to 4.
  3. Fold one sheet of paper in half.
  4. Use the paper punch to cut 26 circles from the folded papers.
  5. Lay paper 1 on a table and spread the 26 cutouts within the circle drawn on the paper. Keep balloon 1 on the table and place the remaining papers, cutouts, and balloons away from the table so they will not be affected by steps 5 to 7.
  6. Quickly rub balloon 1 back and forth across the wool scarf 10 times. Immediately hold the balloon near, but not touching, the cutouts for 5 seconds.
  7. Count the number of cutouts that stick to the balloon. Record this number in a Static Electricity Data table like the one shown.
  8. Discard paper 1, balloon 1, and the used cutouts.
  9. Repeat steps 4 to 8 three times with the remaining materials.
  10. Average the cutouts that cling to the balloons.

Results

Some of the cutouts leap up and cling to the balloon. The number of clinging cutouts will vary.

Why!

The smallest building blocks of matter are atoms, which in turn are made up of smaller particles. Atoms have a center, called a nucleus, which contains positively charged particles called protons. Spinning outside the positively charged nucleus are negatively charged particles called electrons. When materials are rubbed together, electrons tend to be rubbed off one of the materials and onto the other. This causes one of the materials to be more positively charged and the other more negatively charged. Energy due to the buildup of charges on an object is called static electricity. These charges are called static charges because they are stationary (nonmoving).

When two substances are rubbed together, such as the balloon and the wool scarf, electrons are lost from one substance and gained by the other. Rubbing the balloon causes it to collect negative charges. When the negatively charged balloon approaches the cutouts, the positive charges in the cutouts are attracted to the negative charges in the balloon. This attraction is great enough for the lightweight cutouts to move upward against the downward pull of gravity, and the cutouts stick to the balloon.

For Further Investigation

Wool is a natural fiber. Would a fabric made from synthetic fibers generate static electricity? A project question might be, What effect, if any, do different fabrics have on the generation of static electricity?

Clues for Your Investigation

  1. Repeat the investigation, using a fabric made from synthetic fibers, such as rayon or nylon.
  2. Photos of the procedure can be used as part of your display.

Pickup!

References and Project Books

Ardley, Neil. The Science Book of Electricity. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991.

Baker, Wendy. Make It Work! Electricity. New York: Scholastic, 1995.

Gardner, Robert. Science Projects about Electricity and Magnets. Springfield, N.J.: Enslow, 1994.

Glover, David. Batteries, Bulbs, and Wires. New York: Kingfisher Books, 1993.

Soucie, Gary. What's the Difference between Lenses and Prisms and Other Scientific Things? New York: Wiley, 1995.

VanCleave, Janice.janice VanCleave's Electricity. New York: Wiley, 1994

janice VanCleave's Physics for Every Kid. New York: Wiley, 1991.

Wood, Robert W Electricity and Magnetism Fundamentals: Funtastic Science Activities for Kids. New York: Learning Triangle Press, 1997.

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