Picture of Be a Scientist: Build an Electrostatic Motor
Normal motors are driven by electromagnetic forces. This motor needs no batteries, mains supply or solar cells. Electrostatic motors are turned by the kind of electricity generated by wearing nylon clothes in a modern office. Think of it as gigantic nano-technology as well, because this is how the microscopic motors of nanobots work.

Step 1: Gather your materials.

Picture of Gather your materials.
For the basic motor, you need a disposable plastic drinking cup, aluminium foil, glue-stick, bamboo or dowel (at least a centimetre or two longer than the cup is tall), wire and a non-conducting base, such as a plastic plate or a wooden board.
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knightscode275 months ago

Gonna make this!!

Kiteman (author)  knightscode275 months ago

Post pictures when you do!

science mad7 months ago
Kiteman (author)  science mad7 months ago

Isn't it just?

chasebh892 years ago
no... why is it important it sticks? its most likely a bad ground but i tried it on the faucet and still no success
Kiteman (author)  chasebh892 years ago
It means that you are either not generating much charge when you rub it, or the air is humid and the charge is leaking away too quickly - try again on a dry day.
chasebh892 years ago
mine wont work :/ did everything correct and am powering it with a balloon (my leyden jar won't charge)
Kiteman (author)  chasebh892 years ago
There are many things that could be wrong, but the most likely are excess humidity letting charge leak too easily, or a poor Earth ("ground") connection.

Will your balloon stick easily to a wall after you rub it on something?
chasebh892 years ago
i did everything you said to do and it wont work :( i power it by balloon and put the ground in the faucet but it wont turn... help?
SgBriggs2 years ago
could i power this from a bank on capasitors?
Kiteman (author)  SgBriggs2 years ago
Not very well - the voltage needs to be in the thousands.
john5002 years ago
i have a question, one part of copper wire goes connected to earth and to a static electricity fuel or to a baloon, the other part of wire... goes where?
Kiteman (author)  john5002 years ago
That's it. One wire feeds static from the generator (balloon, whatever), and the other drains it to Earth / ground.
ThatCatMan2 years ago
Are we able to use things other than a plastic cup, say a lightweight tin can with a curved bottom?
Kiteman (author)  ThatCatMan2 years ago
Not for the rotor - each panel of foil needs to be fully insulated from the others. You could use a paper cup, or a plastic bottle, but not a metal container.
brettbeatty3 years ago
As I understand, the number of foil parts on the rotor should be an odd number so the charges are never in equilibrium.
Kiteman (author)  brettbeatty3 years ago
That's sound logic, although I've never tested it.

We tended to make the foils in pairs to make it easier to balance the rotor.
This looks like a fun project. Can't wait to try it out; Thanks for the post!
Kiteman (author)  NineInchNachos9 years ago
A pleasure. I'm trying to work out how to attach a video of it running.
Kiteman's first comment...
 So I see I'm not the only one who tried to find Kiteman's first comment.
Same here...
WOW i am replying on kiteman's first comment, i feel with great gratitude
Kites first comment?
jembersonic4 years ago
This didn't work With the TV method, my ground was a plumbed radiator :/
Kiteman (author)  jembersonic4 years ago
That's a shame.

My first questions would be "Was the weather humid?", and "Were you in contact with bare metal on the radiator?".

Ugifer4 years ago
This is great - thanks for the instructable.

I bought a cheap refurb Van de Graaff off e-bay and it arrived today. The thing is, the generator makes so much electrostatic wind that a plain plastic cup will turn in any case - no need for the foil!

I made my rotor using mylar film from a crisp-bag (chip-bag if you are American) and it seemed to work very well. Turned when the other end of the wire was about a foot from the VdeG. No need to actually contact the dome.
Kiteman (author)  Ugifer4 years ago
Wow - how big is your VdG??
Ugifer Kiteman4 years ago
Nothing huge - dome is about 9". Makes maybe a 3" spark.

I think the friction on the cup is just so low that it turns with the slightest breath. Certainly you don't need to be anywhere near contacting the dome once its charged up to make it spin (that's the rotor with the mylar strips). It wil easily turn a plain cup by the wind it produces, but you need to contact the dome for that one.
I just recently built something like this...and unfortunatly it is hard for me to find somewhere to ground my wire near my old tv. Would it be possible to build a sort of leyden jar or something to store the electricity then discharge the jar to my house plumbing later?
Kiteman (author)  Electroinnovation5 years ago
You really need a decent "ground" for this to work.

If you only have a couple of feet of spare wire, find an extension lead.  Touch the plug end to your ground, and stick the spare wire into the socket end at your motor.

You could, though, charge the jar and then use it to run the motor...
great way to accidentally electrocute yourself :D
Kiteman (author)  matstermind5 years ago
The VdG is much more fun.
ohh ok thanks
rrpo_105 years ago
this is very hard i am electriacally shocked 5 times and still i can't make the rotor move....can you help me out??--- i use my tv and a foil and on the other part i use cold water with salt....yet it,s revolves but it is not continous....aarrgghhh this one is killing me!!!...pls help me guys
Kiteman (author)  rrpo_105 years ago
The cold water with salt is the problem.

Connect the the Earth (or "ground") instead.  Use a longer wire and touch it to bare metal on a cold-water pipe.  The container of water will charge up, but not allow that charge to flow away.  When it is as charged as the TV, the static will stop flowing, and the motor will stop.

where do i connect the earth to
Kiteman (author)  magicmike54625 years ago
See Step 5 - any bare metal that is connected to the ground.  Plumbing is good.
azuro5 years ago
Neat work I must say.
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