Physical Science - Other

Understanding Static Electricity

Nan C Avery's image for:
"Understanding Static Electricity"
Image by: 

The great golfer, Lee Trevino, was playing in the Western Open, when a bolt of lightning struck him. He suffered injuries to his spine. He had surgery and eventually could play golf again.

Why was he struck by lightning?

Electrons are free roaming; in other words they don't have a strong nucleus and can move around and attach to something else that has a stronger nuclei, such as proton or neutron (including a person's body). If the electrons in your body are massive (millions and millions of electrons), you become electronically charged and have static electricity. If you are out in an open field during a thunderstorm and there is a difference between your body's electrons and a cloud (where lightning forms), the lightning will be attracted to you and you will end up like Lee Trevino or dead.

On a lesser note, the friction between your hairbrush, which builds up protons, and the electrons in your hair, will cause your hair to stand up because of the electrostatic charge.

Static electricity means not moving (no current but voltage). When you rub your feet on a carpet, you build up electrons, but very little voltage. As a result, you get a very small shock when you touch a grounding object. A refrigerator for example, or even better, another person!

Another aspect of static electricity is in the ventilation of confined places that employees have to work. For example underground in a manhole, vault or tank. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has written manuals about how to work in those confined spots. They are trying to develop a way to remove static electricity. This aspect of confined spaces and static electricity affects us as consumers when we see the warning sign that is placed on gas pumps: Do not return to sit in your car without first touching the frame of the car to discharge any potential build-up of static electricity. Failure to do so could result in an explosion.

Very dry weather also helps develop static electricity. It is the optimum conductor of static electricity.

Uses of static electricity: Most of the time we think of static electricity as a problem. There are some good uses.

1. Photocopiers have static electricity to attract black (or color) ink toner to the paper.

2. Air purifiers use static electricity to take the particles out of the air.

3. Car painting: To insure uniformity in paint that will resist high speeds and weather and protect the metal interior metal. The metal body of the car is submerged in a liquid substance that charges it positively, and the paint is charged negatively. This is what insures the uniformity of the paint. (

Static electricity can't be used for any kind of power because it can't be harnessed as electricity is. Static electricity is usually viewed negatively but it does serve some benefits to society.

More about this author: Nan C Avery

From Around the Web

  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow