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Friday, February 18, 2011

Static electricity

Did you ever notice how when it's completely dark and you're sliding into bed, that bright green sparks suddenly appear? How about associating these sparks to electricity?
   I just realized that by rubbing hard enough, you can get the same spark that-in a possibly larger scale-start a fire! Only it would be bad to set yourself on fire while sleeping. Of course, most of you are already wondering how boring this post could be, but remember-static electricity is the same concept that allows balloons to stick to walls and socks to stick to your clothes after coming out of the dryer! Maybe it might not be interesting and maybe it might be possibly the most annoying concept ever known to man, but it does have a reason for its existence and deserves to be understood. 
Pluses are positive, minuses are negative
   Basically, for static electricity to occur, there first has to be a charged object. This can be accomplished by rubbing two objects together, thus creating a charge through friction. On each individual atom of one object, the electrons begin to move to the other object, causing one to become positively charged and the other to become negatively charged. Imagine this as a piece of cloth with a smiley face (positively charged) and a balloon with a frowning face (negatively charged). 
   Since opposites attract and likes repel, the balloons attract and cloth attract, but two charged balloons repel. So when you push a balloon to the wall, through a process called induction, all the electrons on the wall are pushed away, making the wall positively charged and your balloon stuck!
   Of course, even though this static electricity is capable of giving you a nasty sting, it's not comparable to what would happen if you stuck your finger in an outlet. While static electricity is slow, current electricity (the type that you get from an outlet) keeps coming. While static electricity gives you a nasty zing, current electricity would travel through your entire body, burning as it rampaged. While static electricity is like dripping water one drop at a time, current electricity is like turning on a hose full blast!
   I've recently heard that the world's largest Van de Graaf generator (a static electricity dohicky invented by Dr. Van de Graaf) is on display at the Boston Museum of Science. You sure wouldn't want to get near that piece of machinery since it can generate up to 2 million volts!

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