Introduction: Static Electricity or Superhero Mind Control

There are many superheroes and fictional beings who have magnetic abilities: Magneto and Polaris from the X-Men, and Cosmic Boy from the Legion of Superheroes to name a few.

They typically use their magnetic force to move metal things from one place to another. How cool would it be to set the dinner table with just a wave of your hand?

Magnetism is a force that can push away or pull closer objects that have a magnetic material inside of them (for example: iron). When something is pushed away, we say that it has been repelled and when something is drawn closer, we say that it has been attracted. Electricity is related to magnetism and shares a lot of similar properties – such as the ability to repel and attract.

We typically think of electricity as energy that flows through wires from a power plant and into our homes, or favorite entertainment venues (like Science City!). Although electricity takes the shape of charged particles, such as those flowing through wires, it can also be stationary and stay in one place. This type of electricity is called static electricity.

We often generate static electricity without knowing it. Sometimes we walk or run throughout our houses in sock feet rubbing those socks against the carpeted floor. When the socks rub against the carpet the two materials attempt to resist the movement with a force called friction. Friction is the force of resistance between two, or more objects. Many times, the frictional force can be great enough that it shakes loose small charged particles that are then picked up by our socks and transferred into our bodies. These charged particles are electrons that carry a negative charge. Since the charge was stationary and was picked up by the sock feet in that one spot we say that it was a static charge, or static electricity.

These charges will remain in place and non-moving until they are able to discharge to another object that needs the extra charges that were picked up. Sometimes we discharge the static electricity by touching a doorknob and sometimes it’s a sibling that we want to surprise with a shock!

Gather the materials and follow the steps below to use static electricity to make a soda can move, as if you have your very own superpowers!

Supplies

Balloon

Aluminum Soda Can

Tabletop, or Counter top (preferably uncovered)

Step 1: Blow Up the Balloon!

Use your breath to blow up the balloon. Stretching out the balloon before blowing will make it more flexible and easier to expand. Fill the balloon to a medium size – not too big, but not too small, either.

Rub the inflated balloon against the top of your head. Through the force of friction, you will give the balloon a static charge as it picks up negatively charged electrons from your hair.

The surface of the balloon is prone to stealing charges from other surfaces and will collect them from your hair when they’re moved against each other. That’s why your hair stands up and sticks to the balloon, because it wants that charge back! When the balloon is pulled away from your head, the new electrons the balloon picked up have no place to discharge so they will remain on the surface as non-moving, static electricity.

Step 3: Hold Balloon Close to Aluminium Can!

Count to 10 and then slowly move the balloon toward the aluminum soda can. The counting will allow the static charge to build on the surface of the balloon. As you move your balloon closer to the aluminum can make certain not to touch them together. The static electricity on the balloon side will discharge in the can too soon if they come into contact.

Step 4: Amaze Your Friends With This Awesome Trick! Be Sure to Share the Science Behind It As Well. Science Is Everyone’s Super Power!

Watch and be amazed as the aluminum can begins to roll toward the balloon! The aluminum can is a great conductor – in fact, aluminum is one of the best metal conductors that we know. That means that electricity flows through it very easily. The can is drawn to the static electricity on the balloon and rolls towards it. (That’s why we didn’t want to touch the two together, because the static will discharge once they come into contact with each other and the can will pass the charge to the closest object that wants the extra charge – in this case the table).

Step 5: Key Terms

Atoms – A building block of matter and one of the smallest types of known particles. Atoms are made up of smaller particles called electrons, neutrons, and protons.

Attract – When one object pulls an electron from another and the two objects are drawn together.

Conductors – A substance that an electrical charge can flow through easily – such as an aluminum can, or a copper wire!

Electricity – The flow of charged particles and the energy produced when electrons flow from place to place.

Electrons – The part of the atom that carries a negative charge. Electrons live in shells that orbit the nucleus, or center, of an atom.

Friction – The force of resistance between two, or more objects when they rub against each other. Friction works against motion and moves in the opposite direction to motion.

Insulators – A substance that electricity cannot easily pass through – like rubber, or plastic!

Magnet – A rock, or piece of metal that can pull certain kinds of metal toward itself. There are natural magnets in the world called lodestones!

Magnetism – A force caused by certain rocks, or metals when the electrons in the atoms spin in the same direction causing a field that attracts, or repels other objects.

Neutrons – The part of an atom that carries a neutral charge. Lives in the nucleus, or center of the atom.

Particles – Tiny bits of matter that make up everything in the universe.

Protons – The part of an atom that carries a positive charge. Lives in the nucleus, or center of the atom.

Repel – When two objects share the same charge they push away from each other. This happens when two south pole magnets, or two north pole magnets come close to each other.

Static Electricity – A build up of charged particles that doesn’t move, or flow, instead staying in place on the surface of an object. Static electricity is caused by an imbalance of negative and positively charged atoms.