Electrostatic Soda Can Attractor

Electrostatic Soda Can Attractor

Electrostatic Soda Can Attractor

Follow FizzicsEd 150 Science Experiments:

You will need:

One soft drink can (the smaller 200mL cans work best)

One balloon

One human volunteer with hair!

static and can
1 The Soda Can Attractor - materials_ingredients needed

Make sure the can is empty and dry

2 The Soda Can Attractor - blow up the balloon

Blow up the balloon.

3 The Soda Can Attractor - rub the balloon vigorously on your volunteer_s head

Rub the balloon vigorously on the head of your volunteer, until their hair starts to stands on end.

4 static and can

Lie the soft drink can on a flat surface, on its side.

Hold the part of the balloon that was touching your volunteer’s head close to the soft drink can, but do not touch it. You should see it roll towards the balloon, seemingly by itself!

Try getting the can to roll and then reverse the direction of motion without touching it.

All static electricity experiments work better on dry days. The greater humidity draws charge away from the objects that you’re using.

Why Does This Happen?

Everything in the universe is made of atoms: tiny particles that have positively charged parts, protons, and negatively charged parts, electrons, plus some neutral parts, neutrons. Please note that the real structure of the atom is outside the scope of this webpage; if you want a quick high school description of sub-atomic particles check out the Standard Model description on the CERN.

When you rub the balloon on your hair some of the electrons in your hair jump ship onto the balloon. This leaves your hair with more protons than electrons, and therefore an overall positive charge. Similarly, the balloon now has too many electrons, and so has a negative charge. These opposite charges attract, which is why we see your hair stand up, trying to get close to the balloon.

When we put the charged up balloon near the soft drink can, there are two results.

First, the negative charges on the balloon move as far away from the can as possible: similar charges repel! Secondly, the negative charges on the can move as close to the positive charges on the balloon as they can get, creating an attractive force that moves the can along the table towards the balloon.

The charge we create in the balloon is called static electricity. It’s the same charge that gives us a zap on a slide, swing set or trampoline. It’s also the same charge that causes massive lightning bolts. Instead of a balloon and hair rubbing against each other, in a cloud. The tiny particles of ice bump into each other and cause a build-up of charge. When there’s enough charge in the cloud, it’s unleashed as a lightning bolt. A moderate thunderstorm can produce more than 700 megawatts of power, which is more than any of the generators at Loy Yang power station in Gippsland, Victoria.

Learn More!

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