Electricity is a force that is created by electrons, tiny bits of negatively charged matter that are usually found in atoms and molecules. However, sometimes the electrons break free and create either current electricity or static electricity.
Current electricity is the kind we usually thing of, in which we get the power from a battery or from plugging into a wall outlet. Electrons flow from one place to another, like a river. We'll explore current electricity more later this month.
In static electricity, the electrons have no where to go, and they just pile up. When they are provided a path to flow through, they rush over all at once. If you have ever walked across a carpet floor, then gotten a nasty shock when you touched something metal, you've had a taste of static electricity. The girls in the photo at left are experiencing static electricity created by a van der Graaf generator (the silver dome in the background).
Here's a fast, simple experiment you can try that will demonstrate some basic ideas about static electricity.
What You'll Need:
Facial tissue, torn into small pieces
Antistatic dryer sheet
Blow up the balloon and tie the end. Rub the balloon all over your head (unless you're bald, then find someone with hair!). Slowly pull the balloon away from your head. What happens to your hair? Do the individual hairs on your head stick together or fly away from one another? Place the balloon near the facial tissue bits. Do they react? Now rub the dryer sheet all over the balloon, and try to pick up your hair and the tissue pieces. What happens?
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