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Static Electricity Experiment: Creating Sparks

by Ron Kurtus (revised 17 November 2012)

Static electricity consists of electrical charges that collect on the surface of a material as a result of rubbing two objects together or pulling them apart. When an object that is charged with static electricity comes near a conducting material like metal, a partially conducting object like a human, or a material that has a collection of opposite charges on its surface, a spark will often fly between the objects.

In order to perform experiments to study this phenomenon, you need a good source of static electricity sparks. You may have noticed that in dry weather, walking on or scuffing your feet along a rug can cause sparks when you touch some things. Unfortunately, that way to product static sparks is very unreliable and often a function of the humidity in the air. A better way would be to use a standard device for generating static electricity such as a Van de Graaf generator, Whimhurst generator, or capacitor disks.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.



Initial considerations

Questions to consider include:

When doing experiments with sparks, use CAUTION:

Experiments to try

Experiment on materials for creating sparks

  1. Make sure the weather is dry enough to create sparks when you walk on the rug.
  2. Work up some static electricity and touch various objects. (Be sure to use CAUTION, as explained above).
  3. Make a chart of the objects, what they are made of, and the results of your experiment.
  4. Draw some conclusions. What materials work the best? The worst?

Experiment on shoes for creating sparks

  1. Try creating static electricity wearing different types of shoes.
  2. Make a chart of the material of the shoe's sole and how well you could create sparks.
  3. Draw conclusions on the best shoes to wear.

Experiment on stopping sparks

  1. Look at the results of what happens when you touch various materials. Which did not create sparks?
  2. Rub your feet on the rug to create enough static electricity to create a spark.
  3. Touch a material that does not spark.
  4. Then touch a material that results in a spark. What happened?
  5. Draw conclusions from this experiment.

Outcome

Draw some conclusions for your experiments.


Sparkle in your experiments


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Questions and comments

Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.


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