Static Electricity Experiments

When we study electricity in our kids’ science class, we do a lot of experimenting with static electricity.

One simple experiment: In stocking feet, shuffle across the carpet. Then touch something metal, like a doorknob or a screw. Zap! (With small children, demo this first and do a little yelp of surprise when you get zapped so they know what to expect, then also reassure them that although it’s startling, it doesn’t really hurt.

Static Station

In our class, we set up a static station, where we offer several ways to generate static, and then several things that will respond to it. At home, you might not want to create the full station – you might just choose one generator, and one thing that responds. Here’s a collection of ideas to try:

Ways to Generate Static Electricity:

• Rub a balloon in your hair – that charges the balloon. (You could also rub the balloon on a fleecy blanket or on pajama pants.)
• Run a plastic comb through dry hair several times to charge the comb.
• Take a plastic ruler (or comb) and wrap a piece of wool or silk around it and rub up and down the ruler several times to charge up the ruler.
• Run some artificial fiber clothes through the dryer.
• Play in a ball pit, or play with a parachute. (Like doing group time where everyone waves the parachute up and down while the kids play underneath it.)

Things that will respond to static charge:

• puffed rice cereal
• torn up tissue paper or coffee filter
• plastic tubes filled with Styrofoam pellets
• feathers
• fur
• an empty aluminum can – this one is cool… lay the can on its side. Hold a charged balloon up to it – the can will roll away. Move the balloon to the other side of the can – it will roll toward it.
• a plate of salt and pepper: have the static charged balloon over it – the pepper will fly up first, and the heavier salt will be slower to attract
• the wall: you could have a contest where kids charge their balloons, then stick balloons to a wall, and see whose balloon stays stuck the longest
• you can also bend water with static
• tissue paper art: create an art work with tissue paper, where you only glue down part of the tissue paper and leave the rest loose – when you pass the static charge over it, the tissue paper will wave

A Weather Note

So, static electricity is easier to generate when the air is dry. We live in Seattle. Sometimes the air is so humid here we have a hard time getting static experiments to work in our classroom!

In your home or classroom, if you can control the HVAC, it could help to turn down the humidity and turn up the forced air heat to dry out the air a little before doing these experiments.