You may not know what static electricity is, but you will have seen it or felt it, perhaps without even realising!

You may have had a ‘hair-raising' experience when taking off your hat on a dry winter's day, or if you have shuffled your feet across the carpet when the air is dry and got a small shock when you reached for the metal doorknob. You might even have made a balloon stick to the wall after rubbing it against your dry clothes. But why do these things happen? It's not by magic, it's because of static electricity!


What is static electricity?

Static electricity is the result of an imbalance between negative and positive charges in an object. In our Why Do we Need Electricity section we talked about atoms and how they are made up of neutrons, protons, and electrons. A static charge is formed when two surfaces touch each other and the electrons move from one object to another. One object will have a positive charge and the other a negative charge. Rubbing non-magnetic items together quickly, like when you rub a balloon fast over something or your feet on the carpet, will build up an electric charge. Items with different charges (positive and negative) will attract, while items with similar charges (positive and positive) will push away from each other. Imagine it acting like a magnet. 

Static in action!

When your skin is charged with static electricity and you touch something metal, like a door handle, the metal is very conductive and will quickly discharge the static electricity, creating a small shock as the tiny electrons jump between your hand and the doorknob.

Have you ever…?

 

Gone down a slide and found that all your hair stands up straight? This is because the friction of sliding has caused a positive charge to be built up on each hair. Since each hair has the same charge, they all try to push away from each other and end up giving you a funny hairstyle! Next time you're in the park, try it out!