Static electricity is an electric current that is not moving as it ordinarily moves in an alternating AC or direct current DC. It is caused when two insulator surfaces as shoes and carpet, hair and cap, etc,. each with a different number of protons and electrons move against each other. The shoes, in this example, would be electrically charged since they have picked up electrons from the carpet. The sparks then fly when the person wearing the shoes touches metal.
All matter is made up of atoms. Matter is made different by the different types of atoms. Discovered thus far are 115. Atoms are the smallest indivisible portion of matter. Large objects are made up of many atoms, smaller particles or portions of matter are made up of fewer atoms. Each atom has a nucleus, or a center containing neutrons and protons. Orbiting around this center or nucleus are electrons. Protons are positively charged while electrons are negatively charged.
When an atom contains equal amounts of protons and equal amounts of electrons there is no charge. Unequal numbers attract. Sameness where matter is concerned is of no consequence. How then do atoms become charges? Surfaces move against each other and build up friction by having the negative electrons move from one atom to another.
In the example of the shoe and the carpet, electrons from the carpet move into the shoe or into the person’s foot if they are wearing no shoes. Wham, touch a nail file and you get a shock. Most metal is a good conductor of electricity and so is water. Glass and fabric, and dry air and plastic are good insulators and do not promote electrical activity. Yet let your charged object – as an example, a balloon you have rubbed on your dry hair – loose and it will make for the ceiling and hover there until it loses some of its electrons and then, without the force of the ceiling reaching out for it, it falls.
Matter that loses negatively charged electrons becomes more positive. That’s makes sense since protons carry positive charges. Matter that gains electrons becomes more negatively charged. In either case, where losing or gaining electrons, a charged atom – the makeup of matter – is an ion.
How to know when an item has static electricity? The sparks fly or are zapped by a small amount of the static electricity suddenly becoming active and moving into a surface that allows it to become active. Fewer carpets are static electricity generators now than once before since their fibers are probably preventativly treated, but once it was common to find new carpet easily generating static electricity.
An easy experiment most children like to try is running a comb through their dry hair and then picking up pieces of paper with it. Or causing a small trickle of water from a spigot to bend by holding a comb one has rubbed vigorously through one’s hair near it This is possible because water is also a good conductor of electricity and when the electrically charged comb is near the small trickle of water electrons move away from the comb toward the water. This experiment needs a goodly force of static electricity in the comb.
Beyond these miniscule static electrical experiments there are the real test of static electricity, lightening. Dry air plus unequally charged dust particles coming into contact with moisture from impending rain and you have a boom. The boom of course is heard after the lightening because light travels faster than sound. They actually are occurring at the same time.
Static electricity may seem like small potatoes. Well yes and no. It is such a familiar happening that we ordinarily don’t think much about it. Yet, basically it is the potential of all action. Batteries are static electricity until some switch is thrown and electricity is formed by the interaction of negative and positive charges. Life is formed with interaction of negative and positive charges, computers run on the interaction of negative and electrical charges, and on and on.