Fun with Static Electricity

Electric charges are all around us, but we don't always see them in fantastic displays like ball lightning or St. Elmo's Fire. Static electricity builds up on our bodies as we scuff our way across a carpet then gives us a shock when it jumps from our fingers to a door knob or other object. We can see the effect of static electricity on water with a simple experiment.

STEP 1: Get a comb. Go to a sink and get a thin, smooth stream of water trickling out of the tap.

STEP 2: Pass a comb through your hair a dozen times or so to give it a static charge.

STEP 3: Hold the comb close to the water (not touching it) part way down the stream. The stream should bend towards the comb. The static electric charge is attracting the stream of water.

STEP 4: You can try a variation of this if you have a balloon. Rub the inflated balloon on something made of wool to give it a charge. Then bring the balloon close to the water. It should also bend the stream.

STEP 5: You can also stick the balloon to ceiling or wall with the static electric charge. Rub the balloon against a piece of wool, then touch the balloon to a wall or ceiling and let it go. It should stick for at least a few seconds until the charge is lost. The balloon is so light that the attraction of the charge is able to hold it to the wall.

NOTE: All of these experiments work best on dry days when it's easier to build up a static charge.

Charge on the comb diverts the water.

Copyright Lee Krystek 1996. All Rights Reserved.