The science of static electricity

Have you ever wondered how a phenomenon such as lightning occur? Or how does a balloon stick to our hair after rubbing it on our head? Or how do we sometimes get a shock after touching a door knob? Come let’s find out!

The reason behind all these incidents is the “Science of Static Electricity”. So, what is static electricity and who discovered it?

Well let’s start by breaking down the word; static means lack in movement or action and electricity means a form of energy resulting from the existence of charged particles. The charge in these particles remain, until they are able to move by means of an electric current. Static Electricity is the result of an imbalance in electrical charges on the surface of any object. This concept was discovered accidentally and investigated by the Dutch physicist Pieter Van Musschenbroek of the University of Laiden in 1746. And independently by the German inventor Ewald Georg von Kleist in 1745.

What are these charged particles?

All materials are made up of atoms, which contain even tinier particles known as electrons, protons and neutrons. Atoms carry a negative charge of electrons revolving around a positively charged nucleus. Most matter we come across is neutral because normally the electrons and protons in an atom are equally balanced. When electrons build up with no circuit for them to flow along, they create non- moving or static electricity. Think of an atom like a knot of two threads, electrons are protons tied together. When the knot is untied one contains only electrons and another only protons. Such separation causes imbalance in the charges also called Charge imbalance or Net charge separation. Due to which the phenomenon of Static Electricity occurs.

What causes this separation?

When two materials come in contact with each other, typically by friction, electrons jump from one material to another. This leaves one material completely positively charged and another completely negatively charged.
How do we get a shock only when we touch certain objects?
This is because static electricity occurs when one material acts an insulator and the other a moderator.

Is static electricity dangerous?

The dangers caused by static electricity are not fatal. However, there are some exceptions such as in some situations ignition of spark when there are flammable gases that can cause an explosion or lightning. However, a coin has two sides, similarly static electricity has several uses too. For example: It is used in electrostatic precipitator, photocopier and laser printers

So next when you suddenly receive a mild shock after touching an object or your hair sticks to the balloon after rubbing it on your head you know why!

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