Facts about Static Electricity

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Everything that has mass and occupies some volume is called matter. Matter is made up of atoms which can be further divided into neutrons, protons and electrons. Neutrons are neutral in nature whereas proton and electron carry unit positive and negative charges respectively. Equal number of protons and electrons make the matter neutral but when some electrons get transferred from on object to another they become charged. Interaction of these charges is called static electricity. Static electricity can build up on any object and is usually seen due to rubbing or friction.

Static electricity is called static because no real movement of electrons is observed during interaction of the transferred charges.

A spark due to static electricity can be of thousands of volts but has very small amount of current which means it has a very low power.

Static electricity was founded in 1660 by Otto von Guericke and founded the electrostatic generator which proved to be a breakthrough invention for other scientists. It was used to further experiment in the field of electricity.

Static electricity can be seen in nature in the form of lightening. There develops a charge separation in the clouds and the earth. Air is a poor conductor of electricity but when the potential reaches its breakdown voltage, huge amount of charges flow within seconds from the clouds to earth which can be seen as lightening.

Static electricity can be seen in daily life too. When you comb your hair for a long time the comb develops a static charge and the objects like hair strand and paper bits are attracted towards it. When you walk on a carpet for a long time and then you touch a metal object you feel a sudden current.

Static charge exists only on the surface of conductor. No charge is observed in the bulk of conductor. This fact was used by Michael Faraday to build the Faraday Cage in which the sensitive electric objects are protected from the outside world by keeping them in a hollow conductor. Therefore you will be safer inside a car rather than under a tree during lightening.

Most semi-conductors are very sensitive and can be damaged due to static charges and are protected using an antistatic strap. Researchers working with such devices usually work with shoes with thin/no rubber soles and usually work on metal floors.

Static Discharge can create severe hazards in industries which use flammable or ignitable substances. Even a small spark of static discharge is of thousands of volts and can easily ignite these substance causing sudden explosions. Examples of such industries are grain silos, paint factory, fibreglass factory, petroleum industries etc. This can be prevented by using insulating fluids as accumulators.

Static Charges can also create havocs in space exploration vehicles. Due to extremely low humidity in extraterrestrial environments large statics charges can develop on the vehicles and can destroy the electrical equipments.

Static electricity has been used to create ozone. When a silent discharge is passed through oxygen it initiates a thermodynamic reaction leading to the formation of ozone.

A simple electrostatic generator is a Van de Graff Generator which uses a rubber belt moving n a motor to accumulate static charges on a hollow spherical conductor standing on an insulated column. It was invented by an American Inventor Robert J. Van de Gaff in 1929. According to the sizes the Van de Graff generator can accumulate charges ranging from 1,00,000 volts to 25 Megavolts. It was discovered as a particle accelerator to generate X-Rays and in nuclear pharmacy but has been widely used to teach physics and for entertainment. The largest air insulated Van de Graff generator is in Boston’s Museum of Sciences.

Static Electricity also plays a great role in Xerography which is a dry photocopying technique invented by Chester Carlson in 1938. This resulted in world’s first photocopying machine Xerox 914 released by Haloid in 1960.

Static Electricity is also used in air precipitators used in chimneys to filter out the carbon and dust particles from the smoke.

Static charges are also used in automotive painting and spray painting due to which the paint easily binds with the body and cannot be easily removed by washing.

Static charge also plays a role in aircraft refuelling. During the process of refuelling the movement of the fuel can cause in charge development which can cause explosion and thus the fuelling pipe is connected with the ground so that any charge that is accumulated is immediately transferred to the ground.

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