Try This: Use the (Static) Force

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Try This: Use the (Static) Force

May the Fourth Be With You! You can use static electricity to manipulate the world around you — this is no Jedi mind trick. This is science.

 

Here’s what you need:

  • A wool sock
  • A bit of PVC pipe
  • A clean dry aluminum can
  • Tiny pieces of plastic bag, confetti, or even glitter

 

Here’s what to do:

1. Place an aluminum can on its side on a clean table. Sprinkle the little bits of thin plastic, confetti, or glitter on another area of the table.

2. Rub the PVC pipe with the wool sock until you can hear the crinkling sound of static electricity.

3. Use static electricity on the pipe to attract the and repel the confetti and make the cans move without touching them!

What is happening:

When you rub the wool sock on the PVC pipe, the pipe ends up loaded with electrons and becomes negatively charged. The sock becomes positively charged from losing all of those electrons, but we’re going to focus on the pipe. Like charges repel. When the pipe moves near the aluminum cans, it repels the electrons on the can closest to it. The can begins to roll. When the electrons in the can are repelled to another area, the now positively charged area of the can will be attracted to the pipe, because opposite charges attract.

When the negatively charged pipe moved near the confetti, pieces that were already positively charged were attracted to the pipe, and due to the lack of mass, many of the pieces were able to hop right to the pipe. The metal coating on glitter and some confetti is naturally negatively charged, so some pieces were repelled as well. Static electricity is one of the reasons that glitter and some confetti seems to get stuck on everything.

Though we used static electricity for the forces of good and amusement here, it can be just as powerful and dangerous as the Force in Star Wars. The same static electricity that we can manipulate to make our friend’s hair move or cause socks to stick to our pants can also build up to ignite explosions. When used with caution, it can also improve our modern lives in many ways — from making printed paper copies to painting cars.