You are familiar with electrical conduction through wires, but today you’ll experiment with electrical conduction in alternative ways. Static electricity is a buildup of electrical charge in an object. Static electricity is the same as electricity that is produced by batteries and magnets.
Most of the materials we interact with every day are neutrally charged, meaning they have the same number of protons and electrons. But some are naturally positively or negatively charged. Today, you will be experimenting with the triboelectric effect of static electricity to understand how electrons move between positively charged and negatively charged materials through physical contact.
Negatively charged materials have an atomic structure that provides an abundance of weakly bound electrons in the electrical field. These electrons are easily pulled away by contact with a positively charged material which has atoms that are lacking electrons in their electrical fields. Contact between these materials creates an exchange of electrons from the negatively charged materials to the positively charged material, thereby changing the charge to negative and creating a buildup of electrons and electrical charge. There are several ways static electricity is generated, but you will be most familiar with static charge from a door knob. As you walk on carpeting (primary material), static charge builds up on the soles of your shoes and your body (secondary material). The charge on your body is discharged when your body makes contact with a discharge path, like a metal doorknob.
The purpose of this experiment is to actively transfer electrons, and thus electricity, from one material to another in order to model basic electrical impulses.
Imagine you are an early scientist studying the largely unexplained force of electricity. You’ve experienced static shock and are experimenting ways to control the charge. In these experiments you will be using a comb or a party balloon to create a static charge and transfer that charge to a light bulb, which acts as a discharge path. Continue reading