Today we celebrate Static Electricity Day – a day for some serious electricity fun.

Work up some static electricity (a balloon rubbed against cloth is a great source) and use it to get your hair to stand on end. Rub your feet on a carpet and generate some sparks between you and the person next to you. Cut small pieces of paper, rub a plastic ruler on your hair, and see the paper pieces magically fly into the air as it gets attracted to the electrically charged ruler.

Making paper pieces fly - the magic of static electricity.(© All Rights Reserved)
Making paper pieces fly – the magic of static electricity.
(© All Rights Reserved)

So how does it work? As two surfaces rub against each other, electrons are exchanged, moving from one surface to the other. The resultant mismatch of electrons means that the one object will have a negative charge, while the other will be positively charged. Doing this repeatedly (e.g. rapidly rubbing feet on a carpet, or a balloon on a cloth) can result in the build-up of a fairly large charge. If you have a significant positive or negative charge in your body, and you touch a metal object, the static electricity is rapidly discharged, creating a tingle, or even a small spark.

Of course static electricity is not all about fun and games. In industry, positive and negative charges are useful in applications such as spray painting and dust removal. Printers also use static electrical charges to attract ink or toner to paper.

Some of the most impressive, and dangerous, examples of static electricity in everyday life occur during an electrical storm, when huge electrical charges lead to the development of lightning – instant discharges of many thousands of volts – definitely not something to play with.

Here’s hoping you’ll have a great, positively charged Static Electricity Day – go on, create some sparks!

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