Static Magic Trick

10 01 2011
Yesterday was National Static Electricity Day and we just can’t seem to stop celebrating. You’re probably familiar with static electricity. Have you ever gotten a shock after wearing socks on carpet then touching a friend? Have you ever combed your dry hair and noticed it stick up in the air? That’s static electricity at work.
So what exactly is static electricity? To understand static, we must first understand a little about atoms. Everything is made up of atoms. Atoms are tiny particles that are made up of protons, electrons, and neutrons. Protons have a positive charge, electrons have a negative charge, and neutrons are neutral.
Since everything is made up of atoms, and atoms have charges, all things have charges. Opposite charges attract and like charges repel (magnetic train sets are a good example of this attraction and repulsion). Most of the time, the positive and negative charges in an object are balanced, so the object overall is neutral.
Static electricity occurs when there is an imbalance of negative and positive charges in an object. Rubbing certain materials together can transfer negatively charged electrons and cause an imbalance. When you rub your socks on the carpet, you pick up extra electrons. The extra electrons want to be released, but can only leave your body when you come into contact with something else that conducts electricity.

We tried a not-so-shocking static magic trick here at the Museum.

All you need is a plastic straw in a paper wrapper (or, a plastic straw and a paper napkin).

Tear off the ends of the straw’s wrapper (or wrap your straw tightly in the paper napkin) and slide the straw band and forth through the paper quickly. Keep sliding the straw, about a dozen passes through the paper.

Take the straw out of the paper and hold the straw in your hand. Slowly open your fingers, and the straw should be “stuck” to your hand.

When you rubbed the straw, you made the straw negatively charged. Bringing the straw close to your hand causes your palm to become positively charged, and since opposite charges attract, the straw sticks to your hand.

Rub the straw again – see if it will stick to other items around the house – a wall, a door, etc.

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