Introduction: $1 Electrostatic Levitation Toy (Video)

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This is a curious effect I've been experimenting with over the last week, and I've finally decided to make a how-to-make video about it.

This effect is REAL. It's called Van Der Graaf levitation. It's been around for awhile now, you can even buy a commercial toy version of this device. However, the commercial one uses batteries and costs about $30...

Basically, it's a statically charged PVC pipe that can levitate some thin mylar plastic. It's an awesome effect, and so cheap to make. It would make a head turning Christmas gift for sure! (did I mention how cheap it is to make !??!?!!?!)

What you need:

14'' 3/4'' diam PVC pipe ($0.75)

Fuzzy fabric. Get a scrap of fleece at a fabric store. Fake fur works the best, hands down.

Mylar film (negligible cost). You can find mylar at any store that has a good selection of tissue paper. I got a lifetime worth of it at Michaels Craft store for $2. The mylar on mylar balloons should work also. There's another video out there that shows you how to make this, and he uses christmas tree tinsel. Personally, I think tinsel is a pain to deal with on account of it being so thin and easily tangled.

NOTE: This thing a lot more fun than it looks. Try it for yourself!

Comments

author
turner_chris1 (author)2013-10-20

If you have trouble with humidity, put the tube on a central heating radiator and the piece of plastic bag or other warm place for a while.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VYcbBV0NKk

author
Dreistein (author)2010-11-08

will space blanket work?

author
nepheron (author)Dreistein2010-11-08

I'm pretty sure...but I've never seen one before. If the material is thin like tissue paper, than it'll probably work.

Regular cellophane works great, tissue paper works OK...if it's thin and light, it will work.

Except plastic shopping bags...they don't work and I don't know why :\

author
turner_chris1 (author)nepheron2013-10-20

the very thin plastic bags from super markets works just rub it on your hair (no conditioner!)

author
timnitro (author)nepheron2010-11-21

the affect is something to do with atoms the shiner the material the better it works. see the pcv sees it self in the Mylar film so it acts differently than with a clear product

author
day-veed (author)timnitro2011-01-03

I agree with coast2coastcreator! What on earth is that supposed to mean? =D

author
mlefering (author)day-veed2011-06-22

here is a link to some information bout it, just have a look at the table, you'll get it http://www.rmcybernetics.com/science/high_voltage/contact_elec.htm

author

????lol

author
logical (author)2013-03-11

It's a fun effect but there is no such thing as "Van Der Graaf Levitation", at least not within the scientific community. You are confusing this with the Van Der Graaf Generator which works in a similar way to the PVC tube and fluffy cloth you have here.
Both are ways of generating static electricity using mechanical means. James Whimshurst's Influence machine is another example of mechanically driven friction-based machine.

The commercial product you mentioned while still an electrostatic device is very different in that the static electricity is generated electronically using a voltage multiplier. It is basically a handheld air-ioniser, often used to attract and removes dust particles from the air.

What you are looking for is the "Triboelectric Effect" and "Triboelectric Series", see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triboelectric_effect and it is directly related to the principle you are using to charge the PVC pipe.

Basically, the bigger the difference between the materials used, the bigger the charge. This is why some cloths work really well and others are pretty useless.
See www.school-for-champions.com/science/static_materials.htm

With the above, you should be able to find a better alternative to the PVC pipe though your choice may cost a little more. Have fun :)

author
smithraj (author)2013-01-13

I do this. & its working successufl... Thanks a lot ..

author
laldridg3 (author)2012-12-06

if you had a square of pvc pipes about 10cm x10cm and had a moater attached to a brush spinning against the pipes to maintain the charge would this be able to hold the Mylar sphere in place above it

author
turner_chris1 (author)2012-11-29

that shoul be on youtube!

author
turner_chris1 (author)2012-11-29

look up -turnerchris1 flying hydra - for my version
use very thin plastic bag cut it into thin strips levitates easily on a dry day - play tennis wih it.

author
rimar2000 (author)2012-01-15

I bet that when this instructable was published, I made a comment. For two reasons: 1) excellent toy for surprise kids and adults; 2) thank you for putting subtitles! I can read English, but no hear and understand it.

author
cart562 (author)2012-01-09

Our physics teacher showed us this today!! He actually has a nice thing he bought that if you hit the switch for a few seconds that replaces the fuzzy part and it levitated a much larger ball of mylar but to think I can now make it! Nice!

author
The Pigmaster (author)2010-11-12

Wingarduim Leviosa!

author
Oblivitus (author)The Pigmaster2011-10-16

Expelliarmus! You were too slow, your spell fails. Lol.

author
nepheron (author)The Pigmaster2010-11-12

LOL XD

author
Derek Vigil (author)2011-09-01

What would work other than Mylar?

author
nepheron (author)Derek Vigil2011-09-04

Cellophane works but it's very hard to see.

author
Win Guy (author)2011-05-17

Does it have to be Scotch® Brand tape?
 Win Guy

author
deathandestructi0n (author)2011-03-15

does the pipe have to be exactly 14"?

author

The short answer: no. Any reasonable length will probably work.

The long answer: A short pipe will make your hand go closer to the levitating orb. The orb will be attracted to you hand, and stick to it. If the pipe is too long, it will take forever to get a good static charge. 14 inches is a pretty in-between those two extremes.

author
deathandestructi0n (author)2011-03-14

thats awsome!!!

author
mihai2mn (author)2011-02-10

I got myself a PVC ring and the bubble floats above it in the middle of the ring without moving, it looks awesome to bad it doesn't last very long

author
hathuctien (author)2011-02-03

Hey!! That's so kool !!! :)). I like it. Thanks a lot

author
Xandr96 (author)2011-01-28

That's cool!
Also, is that one of those 550 cord bracelets?

author
nepheron (author)Xandr962011-01-29

yes
:)

author
lachy2901 (author)2011-01-25

Would anything other than PVC work?

author
TT-MON! (author)2011-01-18

Wow! THANK YOU FOR THIS! Gonna make one for the kids! They are going to LOVE this!

author
GameNox (author)2011-01-13

Cool, I saw something on TV. WANDERAMA! It is the most expensive thing. WANDERAMA! And has the most annoying commercial. WANDERAMA! To see that we can only do it for a dollar. Now that's sad...

author
ynze (author)2011-01-09

Very, very cool!

I saw something similar made of a pvc-tube "tennis-racket-frame" and a balloon.

Y.

author
Rayney (author)2011-01-02

You know this would be cool for a party. Give all your guests poles and fur then drop a bunch of the mylar bubbles from the ceiling.

author
day-veed (author)2010-11-23

Hi. Nice ible' there! I was wondering if humidity affects this effect. In class I would rub my shoes on the floor a lot, then I would touch my friends and give them a static shock! But this only worked when the air conditioning was turned on. I live in a tropical country so its very humid.

author
jcksparr0w (author)day-veed2010-12-06

Its the dry air that makes it work. The air conditioning is a dehumidifier which makes the air less humid

author
freakyqwerty (author)2010-12-04

So whats that white ring around the silver ring at 0:19?...

author
nepheron (author)freakyqwerty2010-12-04

Both rings are silver mylar film, the ceiling lights make them very reflective on the camera, so they may appear to be white.

author

hey i has dose skisserz

author
timnitro (author)2010-11-21

i used a twix bar wraper and it didnt work but i can make my hair stand up
what am i doing wrong?

author
nepheron (author)timnitro2010-11-21

I tried a snickers bar wrapper, and it didn't work for me either.

I know that cellophane (commonly known as 'saran wrap') works, and so does tissue paper (cellophane works better). Try one of those and see if you can't get it to work

author
timnitro (author)nepheron2010-11-22

i tried saran wrap made it into a ball like above but it kept stiking together so i tried tissue it only stuck what do i do

author
nepheron (author)timnitro2010-11-23

Just try a small peice of tissue paper about 1mm wide and one inch long, see if that works? If it sticks to the tube, try to shake it off. It should float after that.

author
Katrien95 (author)2010-11-21

I've just tried to use different sizes of tubes: 20 and 24 inch. But it doesn't matter...
I don't now it anymore, do you?

author
nepheron (author)Katrien952010-11-21

Yeah, I really don't know why it won't work for you. It may be that you have a very high humidity where you are.

I know that in my climate this levitation is hard to do after it starts snowing. During wintertime, it's very humid indoors because of all the snow that gets tracked in and melted.

Today I was trying out the orb, but it wasn't flying very high. I Think it was because it had rained all morning, and the air was just too humid.

Is it snowing where you are? Raining? Do you live in a cool climate near the sea?

author
Katrien95 (author)nepheron2010-11-22

I live in a maritime climate, also near the sea. The period of winter is beginning here, so it's very cold and it sometimes rain. Would that be it? If it's true, I should try it in once again in summer! However, thank you very, very, very much for your advise and help! I really appreciate it, and I learnt very much thanks to you!

author
nepheron (author)Katrien952010-11-22

Thanks, I really wanted to get it to work for you. Try it in the summer, it sounds like your climate may be too humid this time of year.
Good luck! :D
~neph

author
Katrien95 (author)2010-11-21

I've tried it with really thin and sticky cellophane, but it also stick to the tube. I haven't tried to use a longer tube, because I still don't know how long it has to be. Something like 20 or 24 inch?

author
nepheron (author)Katrien952010-11-21

yeah, try 24 inches. It really sounds like your climate is extremely humid, though.

author
Mudbud (author)2010-11-20

AWESOME! I cant wait to make this!!

author
Katrien95 (author)2010-11-18

I don't know If the climate of the Netherlands is humid. But I did what you asked me for. Here are the results:
I can't levitatie the strip of mylar (one inch long and one millimeter wide). It sticks to the tube. What does that say?

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Bio: Travelling since 2013. I'm currently in Australia for some reason. --- I’m Calvin Drews, and I love to learn, experiment, invent, create, repair, and ... More »
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