Have you ever seen or felt static electricity? That little shock you get when you walk across the carpet and grab a doorknob is a good example. Static electricity is a common phenomenon that everyone has experienced. Perhaps you’ve had a bad hair day, when your hair was too frizzy and unmanageable. Static electricity can flow through your body and affect your hair. When you walk across that carpet and touch the doorknob, you release the charge that’s built up in your body and feel the shock.
How Static Electricity is Created
Static electricity is created when the charge of a surface is unbalanced – that is, its atoms have become overwhelmingly positive or negative. When an object has more electrons than protons, it is said to be negatively charged. Likewise, when it contains more protons than electrons, the object is positively charged. Protons, electrons and neutrons – which are neutral – are the elements which make up the atom. Atoms want to stay in-balance, and look for a way to discharge imbalance.
When the charge is not released, we can sometimes see it. Our hair stands out away from our heads, or our clothing may cling to us uncomfortably. These visible displays of electricity are known as electric fields, or e-fields. When items are attracted or repelled by electrical charges, or when there is a discharge that releases imbalances, such as lightning, we know there is an e-field.
Why Understanding Static Electricity is Important
Despite the fact that we often consider it a nuisance, static electricity is rather important. In fact, you may know it by another name: voltage. Does that word frighten you? Don’t worry – high voltage without high electrical current can’t hurt you. It’s the current that causes harm, so you can be as static as you want without much effect.
Voltage and current power our household appliances and other electrical equipment. Without current, the voltage is “static.” When current is added, voltage can move and be put to use. Some machines make special use of static electricity or voltage. Photocopiers, for example, use e-fields to attract toner to specific places on the paper, causing them to stick and leave ink behind. The paper is positively charged, and the toner negatively charged so they attract in just the right places to make a photocopy of the original.
Static Electricity in Other Settings
We’ve looked at everyday encounters with static electricity, and how it can be combined with current to generate the energy for our computers, refrigerators and other appliances. Based on this discussion, one might think that static electricity is always a helpful phenomenon, or at least one that is not harmful. This, however, is not necessarily true. Static electricity can create very dangerous situations if one is not conscientious. For example, cars can create their own static charge and ignite if a spark occurs in presence of gas fumes. This is the main reason the public is advised to turn off their ignition before pumping gas.
Certain computer parts are susceptible to damage if exposed to static electricity. For that reason, computer technicians must follow safety precautions when working. Even astronauts must be aware of the potential effects of static electricity to protect sensitive equipment.
This article was written by Sheldon Armstrong, a techie who hopes to help you understand science and technology better. He writes this on behalf of Amigo Energy, your number one choice when looking for great electricity rates. Check out their website today and see how they can help you save money!