Static Electricity Definition

“Electricity is really just organized lightning”
― George Carlin

Remember the school experiment where we used rub our hair with a balloon and get it to stick on a wall? Or the times you took your hat off in dry winter days and got a new spiky hairstyle? And why dust gets on your TV screen or computer monitors? Yes (answering to the question in your mind), that is static electricity.

Static Electricity is the imbalance between negative and positive charges in an object.

But, what does that really mean? and how does static electricity really work?

To start off, let’s talk about the nature of objects which will help us understand what is static electricity.

Objects and all physical matters are made up of atoms, and atoms are made up of charges, (positive, negative and neutral). Positive charges are called protons, Negative ones are electrons, and neutral are neutrons. Opposite charges are attracted to each other, and negative ones repel each other.

Inside the atom
Inside the atom

So static electricity is the imbalance between these charges inside of the object. According to the University of Hawaii, “When two objects are rubbed together to create static electricity, one object gives up electrons and becomes more positively charged while the other material collects electrons and becomes more negatively charged.”

But, What causes static electricity?

It is created because one of the two rubbed solid materials has weakly bound electrons, and the other has many gaps in its outer electron shells, electrons are transferred to the other object creating a charge imbalance after the materials are separated. So, rubbing a balloon on your head makes your hair lose electrons as they are weakly bound, while the balloon gains electrons. Your hair becomes positively charged, and the balloon becomes negatively charged. As a result, your hair and the balloon are attracted to each other.

A charged balloon.

What are the materials that cause static electricity?

Of course, not every object can cause static electricity. Otherwise, you’d be getting electrical shocks all the time! So, what’s special about the objects that create static electricity? Static build-up is most likely to occur when one of the two rubbed materials is an insulator. Insulators do not allow charges to run through them because they have tightly bound electrons. On the other hand, conductors allow charges to run through them easily because they have loosely bound electrons. Our bodies are good conductors that tend to give up electrons and gain positive (+) electrical charge, while insulators like wool resist losing their own electrons while having the tendency to attract other’s electrons and gain a negative (-) charge.

Watch more: Exploring Static Electricity.
Take the test: Static Electricity Test



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