Static Electricity: I don't like the term
because there's nothing static about it. I guess they ran out of terms to
describe it but, static electricity can move around. So what would I rather call
it? I would call it an electron
charge because that is what it is, an electron charge. Almost everyone thinks
that static electricity is electricity and to them electricity is something that
comes out of the wall or is stored in a battery. Which is another reason why I don't like the
term static electricity, it is a static electron charge that can be balanced in
a instant. What really is different between static electricity and electricity
is that static electricity can flow over or through an insulative material where
electricity can not.
Static electricity is
actually an imbalance of electron charges on the surface (debatable), between
different materials. A static charge is created when a material that has an
abundance of electrons in it's
and easily gives up those electrons, comes into contact (usually) and then moves
away from a material that has a shortage of electrons in it's shells and easily
takes up electrons. Electrons travel in shells (orbits) around the outside of a
nucleus. All molecules have electrons and you can have neutral, positive, and
negative biased molecules depending on the molecule's atomic structure. We can
create ions by adding or removing electrons from molecules. We can also simulate
static electricity by creating high voltage electric fields and when we do so we
then have something useful. Older TV's and monitors (CRT's),
laser printers, copier machines and such would not work if we didn't have static
charges or the humble capacitor.
But there is a difference between static electricity and a generated electric
field. With the generated field we need conductance and it can be either
inductive, capacitive, or both. With static electricity we can have a charge
between 2 insulating materials and with AC or DC electricity have generally only
have one insulator between charged plates in a capacitor. So static electricity
is not electricity because there is no useful current flow available, zap and
it's gone, it's an electron charge. I have been working with static electricity
for over 30 years in my different careers/jobs and I have seen some really weird
stuff, even almost killed by it. So be careful with it and check out my 'Static
Bonding' page and 'Resources' page
on how to control it.
One of the best explanations I have read is by
William J. Beaty, BSEE on his
website. And so I
"Static electricity" is not
electricity which is static and unmoving. Neither is it a form of energy.
Actually, the thing we call Static electricity is an imbalance. It's an
imbalance in the amounts of positive and negative charges found within the
surface of an object. Only the imbalance between opposite charges is important,
and their motion or "static-ness" is irrelevant. For example, the imbalance can
flow along as an electric current, yet it loses none of its familiar "static
electrical" properties. While it is flowing the charge still crackles, glows,
and attracts dust and lint. But how can we have "static" electricity that flows?
Motionless motion? Simple. "Static electricity" is all about the
charge-imbalance, and it has nothing to do with charges at rest. "Static
electricity" was misnamed.
OK, then what exactly is "static" electricity? Here's a big clue. There's always
a strong e-field (electric field) surrounding these charges, whether the charges
are moving or still. This strong field is the main feature of so-called "static"
electricity. But what's an e-field? One way to say it: an e-field is like a
magnetic field, but it's electrical in nature. Another simple answer: an
electric field is a voltage without a current. Whenever you have pure voltage,
then you have a pure electric field with no magnetism involved: you have
"electrostatics" without "magneto-statics."
Here's still another way to say it:
"Static Electricity" is not unmoving, it really means "High-voltage
That's the answer. Static electricity is simply high voltage. High voltage has
all the characteristics of "static electricity." And when grade-school textbooks
are trying to teach us about "static," they are really trying to teach us about
pure voltage: voltage without current.
When we scuff our shoes upon a rug on a dry winter day, our bodies typically
charge up to a potential of several thousand volts with respect to the ground.
This is a well-known fact in physics, and is easily verified by meter
measurements. Touch a grounded object, and a spark will leap between the object
and your fingertip. This type of long electric spark can only exist when a high
voltage is present. The shortest, tiniest spark requires about 500 volts. Big,
nasty, painful sparks require lots more voltage, up to several thousand volts.
But even when no sparks are jumping, there's still a high voltage between your
charged body and the ground. Your charged body is surrounded with an invisible
During low-humidity weather, scuffing of shoes upon rugs can put a huge voltage
on your body. It is fairly easy to detect this voltage (try
RIDICULOUSLY SENSITIVE CHARGE
DETECTOR) However, this voltage is fairly difficult for students to measure.
A normal voltmeter won't work: the electrical resistance of a normal voltmeter
will discharge your body almost instantly (it places a 10-megohm resistor across
a 200pF body capacitance, and by T=RC we calculate that the meter's resistor
drains out your body's stored energy in two thousandths of a second.)
There is tons of information on the internet and libraries about static
electricity but, I find that even with this immense amount of information that
most people do not understand the basics of it. When I give lectures about
static electricity I start of with asking questions to get a feel for what my
audience generally know about static electricity. I find people know some of the
basics and some folklores about static electricity, it's about 50/50 for basic