Static Electricity Facts – A Shocking Matter

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Photo credit: Popofatticus via Flickr

Photo credit: Popofatticus via Flickr

Did you know that the speed of electricity travels at 186,000 miles per second? Just imagine a huge bolt of lightning crashing to the surface in a blink. Now you know why the DC Comics hero, “The Flash,” moves so quickly. Speaking of thunderstorms, lightning is actually one of the most powerful forms of static electricity. If you’re curious about static electricity, here are some random facts on this shocking matter.

A Brief History on Static Electricity

•One of the first instances of static electricity was discovered by Otto von Guericke in 1660. He invented the machine called the electrostatic generator, which showed static electricity is created through friction.

• It was a breakthrough because no one knew how electricity could be generated. Now, scientists could access electricity more readily, and use it for their experiments.

• Although Alessandro Volta invented the chemical battery in 1800 to generate electricity, many scientists still used the electrostatic generator because it was more efficient. Scientists kept using this machine until Michael Faraday built the turbine in 1831, which could produce the same high voltage as Guericke’s invention.

• In 1752, Benjamin Franklin had a theory that lightning was the same as the static electricity created by rubbing two different objects. Some say the kite experiment he performed was actually a hoax. However, it was found that lightning is one of the largest forms of static electricity.

The concept of manipulating static electricity may seem complicated, but what causes static electricity is very simple.

What is Static Electricity?

• Each atom is made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

• Electrons tend to have a positive charge and spin around the outside.

• In the case of static electricity, two surfaces touch each other and the electrons move from one object to another.

• One object has a positive charge and the opposing object has a negative charge.

• You’ll see this happen in the case of rubbing your feet quickly on a carpet, or your hand on a wooly surface.

• There are certain things susceptible to charge due to the friction of the material.

• Static build-up from a friction-based surface can cause a small shock when you touch a metal surface because it’s a great conductor of electricity.

The triboelectric effect is the cause for static electricity.

What is the Triboelectric Effect?

The triboelectric effect is found through an electrical contact, which happens when two opposing materials create a charge after touching and separating. There are a few major factors that involve this effect:

The polarity and strength of the charges depend on the material, surface roughness, temperature, and other properties. As a result, certain opposing factors can offset a particular charge.

For example, amber can get an electric charge just by being in contact and separating from wool. As stated above, one has a positive charge and the other has a negative charge. However, it’s this polar opposite of charges that increases the level of static on the surface. One material loses an electron while the other one gains an electron.

There are a few ways to get rid of static electricity in some of your everyday activities. You’ll find out that most everyday activities account for many overlooked static electricity facts.

How to Remove Static Electricity

Have you ever washed some clothes then put them in the dryer? Well, using a fabric softener actually decreases the amount of electricity in your clothing. There are specific chemicals in the fabric that actually coats the clothing and protects it from radiating static electricity. What happens during the drying process is that clothes constantly rub against each other, which creates friction. In turn, the friction creates a static charge due to being in close contact to the fabric. However, fabric softener can help. Fabric softener helps in your laundry duties in two ways:

• One: It prevents your clothes from sticking together after being in the dryer for a long period of time. This is definitely an annoyance when you go to separate your clothing after a long wash.

• Two: You most likely WON’T get shocked when you touch your dried items.

Here another one of the many static electricity facts: humidity is another way to remove static electricity. When you have a hot summer, the air allows the static charge to move more sporadically in the air. However, the winter time allows more of a shock because the air is dryer. Lack of moisture causes more static, which is why you’ll get a zing every now and again from a conductive item you touch.

Also, there’s a reason why the packaging on your electronic device is different. Electronic devices are prone to damages caused by static electricity. This is why the manufacturer always has a special conductive bag for them to allow the charge to move away from the electronic. No wonder there’s a warning sign on the bag that says “Keep away from magnets!”

What are Some Real World Uses of Static Electricity?
• It’s used to remove dust particles in furnaces or heating appliances.

• Certain industrial jobs use them in their smokestacks to limit the amount of pollution brought into the air.

• Photocopy machines use static to create ink on specific sections of the paper (xerography).

• Some automotive places use static electricity to paint cars in a cleaner manner, which helps evenly distribute the paint throughout the vehicle.

Static electricity is one of the unique discoveries in the last 400 years. People still continue to invent new ways to use static electricity and more static electricity facts are found all the time. From washing clothes, purifying your air, and even photocopying your images, static electricity is a part of your everyday life.

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