- Education and Science
National Static Electricity Day
Learn all about Static Electricity and How to Prevent Static Shocks
It's electrifying, annoying and exciting all at once. And January 9 is the perfect day to celebrate, study, play with, or scream about static electricity.
There are many ways to get charged up on this special day. Perform some fun science experiments with it. Teach kids about static electricity. And learn how to prevent static shocks.
To learn more about electricity, check out the science websites listed on LearningReviews Electricity & Magnetism Websites for Kids
What is Static Electricity?
It all starts with atoms. Atoms consist of protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons and neutrons like to hang tight together in the nucleus (center of the atom). The electrons orbit the nucleus. The outermost electrons are pretty free-ranging and fickle and they easily attach to other atoms.
Some action - usually friction from items rubbing against each other - causes the free-ranging electrons to release from one object or person to another. This causes a negative charge (static electricity) to build up in clothing, fingers, hair, etc.
As you move across a carpet, particularly, you build up a negative charge. And all those free-ranging electrons like to gather at the tips of irregularly shapes objects, like your fingers. So when your fingertips approach a good conductor, like a doorknob, a light switch, or another person's fingers, all of this static electricity is no longer static. It makes a dash for the gap and ZAP! You get a shock.
You notice this effect particularly in the winter because the air is much dryer. The dry air around your body acts as an insulator and allows your body to gather a greater number of electrons and so a greater negative charge. In the more humid air of summer, those excess electrons are shed from your body more easily. So you don't build up the same kind of charge you do in the winter.
Lessons in Static Electricity - from the Physics Classroom
When 2 positively or negatively charged items come close together, they repel each other - such as each hair on your head when you pull a sweater over your head.
When a negatively charged item comes near a positively charged item, such as your hair near a balloon or clothes in the dryer, they attract each other and cling together.
The Physics Classroom has detailed lessons to explain these concepts.
Static Electricity Simulation
John Travoltage demonstrates static electricity and static shock discharge in this interactive simulation from the PhET team at the University of Colorado.
Bill Nye Rocks Static Electricity
Try a Static Electricity Experiment or Science Project
Find out How Different Materials React to Static Electricity. In this ScienceBuddies.org project, you make an electroscope to test the amount of static charge in a variety of objects.
Become a Human Conductor of Electricity. In this SteveSpanglerScience.com experiment, see if you can power a light bulb.
More Fun Static Electricity Experiments
Hair-raising ways to celebrate the day
A faucet and a comb are all that are needed for this experiment.
This experiment is especially electrifying if you can do it in a dark room.
Here's the classic balloon experiment with a twist. Can you create an invisible leash?
Lightning in a Salt Grinder
How to Prevent Static Shock
Stop static electricity in its tracks!
1. Wear natural fibers. Synthetic fibers generate more of a static charge than cotton.
2. Use a humidifier. Increase the humidity in your house. Dry air increases the frequency and severity of static shocks.
3. Wear ESD shoes. ESD (Electrostatic discharge) shoes are specially made shoes designed for people who work with electronics. ESD shoes "ground" you and conduct any charge you build up through your feet to the floor. Can't afford ESD shoes? Leather-soled shoes work better than synthetic-soled shoes. Or walk barefoot or cover your shoes with aluminum foil.
4. Use anti-static skin lotion. This is a specialty lotion also designed for people who work with electronics.