Winter is the time of year when the air feels the driest. It’s also the time when we break out the wool sweaters, hats, and mittens to stay warm. Because of this, we often find our hair and clothes filled with static electricity, sticking up every which way! Time to harness that energy and use it for science!
What you need:
- Four plates
- Fabric squares or thin paper squares
- Aluminum can
What you do:
First, separate the feathers, sequins, fabric or thin paper squares, and aluminum can onto the four plates. Have the children make predictions about what they think the balloon will be able to pick up with the static.
Next, blow up the balloon and rub it against either your hair (enjoy the fun new ‘do!) or a wool fabric to create the static electricity. Have the kids place the static-ridden balloon on the different plates with the various objects to see what happens!
Questions to consider:
- Why did you have to rub the balloon on something else to create static?
- Why do you think the balloon could pick up some objects but not others?
- How big of a balloon do you think you’d need to completely pick up the aluminum can?
Why it works:
Opposites attract! When rubbing a balloon against your hair or the wool fabric, the electrons (negatively charged) on your head jump towards the protons (positively charged) on the balloon. This makes the balloon imbalanced and negatively charged. Therefore, the balloon now attracts positively charged objects towards it.
The balloon’s negative charge is strong enough to pick up objects that are light enough, like the feathers, sequins, and fabric or paper squares. Heavier items like the can are still attracted to the ballon too, just not enough to be picked all the way up. The can should, however, roll in the direction of the negatively charged balloon.
Sometimes, if you can negatively charge an object enough with static electricity and hold it closely to a piece of metal or other object of the like, you can see the spark of the electrons jumping to the protons!