“Electricity can be dangerous. My nephew tried to stick a penny into a plug. Whoever said a penny doesn’t go far didn’t see him shoot across that floor. I told him he was grounded.” –Tim Allen

Static electricity is often the first exposure to physics beyond gravity that we encounter in our lives. Simply rub a balloon against a piece of fabric, and you can stick it to almost anything (or anyone) you like, possibly to their chagrin.

No idea where this image came from. But it’s maybe the best one I’ve ever seen.

No idea where this image came from. But it’s maybe the best one I’ve ever seen.

But the way you probably learned that it happens — rub two materials together, one picks up a positive charge and the other gets a negative charge — is not only a little naive, it turns out not to account for the static electricity effects we observe at all. And oddly enough, we only determined this back in 2011 for the first time, for a physical phenomenon as old as this one!

Image credit: H. T. Baytekin et al., 2011.

Image credit: H. T. Baytekin et al., 2011.

Go find out what causes static electricity, and how we know, on today’s Throwback Thursday.

Comments

  1. #1 PJ
    Perth, west Oz
    June 25, 2015

    Now that is hair-raising.

    I remember having to give the ream of photocopier/typing paper a good whack before using it. That was to stop the sheets clinging to each other. 🙂

  2. #2 araybould
    New York
    June 29, 2015

    IIRC. the speed with which clouds generate a potential has been an unresolved puzzle. Perhaps this result will provide the key to solving it.

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