Applied Science - Physics (3B)

  • Exploring the origin of static electricity.
  • Comparing static and current electricity.


  • electricity
  • electrons
  • negative
  • positive
  • protons
  • Electricity Slideshow (flash) new version coming soon
  • plastic comb
  • confetti
  • fluorescence tube (6-8 inch)
  • plastic rod
  • balloons

Students creating static electricity with balloons, combs, and cloth.


Electricity is produced when an electron moves after being taken away from an atom. Review that atoms make up all matter. Atoms are usually electrically balanced, there are as many positive charges (protons) as there are negative charges (electrons). Particles with the same charge repel or push each other apart. Electrons repel electrons; protons repel protons. Particles with the opposite charges attract each other. However, when the electrons leave and move together it produces electricity. When this electricity is controlled, it is called current electricity, when it can't  be controlled it is called static electricity.

In the cartoon to the left, the "scientist" is chasing an escaped electron from an atom. That electron creates energy that we refer to as electricity. Electrons are easy to remove from an atom, unlike protons and neutrons.


  1. In lab, students will experience static electricity. On damp days, static electricity sometimes doesn't do what it is suppose to. The best days are when it is warm and dry. Make sure to follow the instructions on the sheet. The best type of cloth to use is wool or nylon. To explore more with your students, find out which cloth has the most "static" by rubbing different types of cloths on the comb and see which one is the quickest to pick up the confetti.
  2. Have students blow up the balloon. Direct them to put the balloon on the wall. The more the students rub the balloon, the longer it will stay on the wall. This activity can be extended by having students use different types of cloth.
  3. Students should also rub the balloon and put a fluorescent tube end on the balloon. Rub the balloon rapidly and then barely touch the side of the tube to the balloon. Do this rapidly. If enough static electricity is built up, the electrons will go through the tube and allow it to glow. Darken the room so students can see this better. They will become very excited about the bulb glowing. It sometimes takes many attempts for this to work.

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