Sticky Static

Don’t know about you but after a birthday (or if we’ve been to a party) we have balloons kicking about the house for months. Well why not put those balloons to use and use them to show the power of static electricity.

What you need:

  • Balloon (essential).
  • Hair (essential – any amount will do. Ideally human, no idea how well cat or dog hair works but doubt they will appreciate you rubbing a balloon on them!).
  • Wall (essential).

What to do:

  • Rub the balloon on your hair.
  • After a good amount of rubbing put the balloon on a wall to see what happens.

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Tips/extra bits:

  • You can use a jumper or carpet instead of hair and then hold it up to someone’s hair to see what happens to the hair. You should also be able to ‘stick’ it to the wall afterwards but might need a bit more rubbing on the jumper/carpet first.

The science bit

Static electricity is the build up of electrical charge in an object. It’s called static electricity because it stays in one place for a period of time. It’s all to do with the electrons (remember them from chemistry lessons?). They are those negative subatomic particles that are part of atoms, usually found spinning around on the outside. Anyway static charge can happen when two objects touch and electrons move from one surface to another. Objects with a build-up of static electricity, such as the balloon, are attracted to things that don’t, for example the wall which is why it ‘sticks’ to it.

A bit like a magnet objects with opposite charges attract and also objects with the same charge repel each other. You know when kids go on a slide or trampoline in the sunshine and their hair sticks up? Well that is actually because each hair strand has become positively charged and it is trying to get get away from all the other positively charged strands of hair.

Explaining it to children

Static electricity builds up inside the balloon by rubbing it on hair/carpet/a jumper. Things that have a build-up of static electricity are attracted to things that don’t. Therefore the balloon will ‘stick’ to the wall and also lift up your hair if rubbed on a carpet first.

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Experiment based on an activity from the fantastic Usborne Activities: 365 Science Activities book.

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