I showed this to my daughter for the first time and she said “Wow, that’s so cool!” Such a simple thing to do, put a comb through their hair (I don’t have enough hair to do it on myself) then turn the tap on, hold the comb nearby and WOW – bending water!
Water bends towards the comb because the combing action creates an electrical charge on the comb that attracts the water towards it.
Why does the comb have an electric charge on it?
The comb has an electric charge on it because it has been used to comb hair and the combing action has transferred tiny charged particles (electrons) from one to the other.
In other words…moving a comb through hair, can sometimes cause the electrons to jump from one to the other.
What is the electric charge?
The electric charge is called static electricity. The electrical charge stays on the comb (at least for a while) and does not move to another place – this is why it is called static electricity, because static means “not moving”. Static electricity is an electric charge that is not moving. What we usually think of as electricity is an electrical charge that is definitely moving!
What is static electricity?
Static electricity is an electric charge caused by tiny particles (electrons) being lost or gained.
Here is an analogy – to try and help explain static electricity…(I hope it helps!)
Everything, absolutely EVERYTHING, is made of tiny, tiny particles:
We call one of these particles electrons – electrons have a negative charge
We call another of these particles protons – protons have a positive charge
Electrons have a negative charge
Protons have a positive charge
Protons and electrons hang out together in what we call atoms.
One way to think of what these atoms are like is to think of an outside light at night with bugs whizzing around the light bulb. In this idea of an atom the light bulb is the centre of the atom, which we call the nucleus (containing protons), and the bugs whizzing around the light bulb are the electrons.
Just like bugs can move from one light bulb to another, electrons can move from one atom to another. Most of the time these light bulbs and bugs (protons and electrons) are in balance, so the overall charge of the object is neutral (not charged).
When different objects (like a comb and hair) are rubbed together the electrons or “bugs” move from one object to the other. One object ends up with more electrons than the other and because the “bugs” (electrons) are charged the object is now charged. When the charged object is brought near another object it attracts the object (if the object has the opposite charge) or repels the object (if the object has the same charge). You can think of this like magnets where they repel or attract each other.
Have you noticed how much harder it is to generate static electricity in wet weather than dry weather – why do you think this is? (Hint – water conducts electricity).
How to bend water with static electricity
1. Gather your Supplies – Comb, running water, dry hair
- A comb or plastic ruler or a balloon or a small piece of pvc pipe
- Source of running water
- Dry hair
2. Charge the comb by combing your hair several times.
If you are using a ruler or balloon, you can rub the item several times on your hair or on a woollen jumper.
3. Turn on the tap/faucet
– not too much, you just want a narrow flow of water!
4. Carefully move the item close to the water
Make sure you don’t touch the water.
Try some other items – what about a metal ruler? A wooden ruler? Note what works and what doesn’t.
Moving paper with static electricity
1. Gather your Supplies – pvc pipe, dry hair, tissue
- A comb or plastic ruler or a small piece of pvc pipe (I found the pipe to be especially effective)
- Dry hair, a woollen jumper or a microfibre cloth
- Some small, light pieces of paper, such as a shredded tissue.
2. Place the pieces of paper on a plate or table
3. Charge the comb by combing your hair several times.
If you are using a ruler or balloon or pipe, you can rub the item several times on your hair or on a woollen jumper or cloth.
4. Pass the pipe etc over the paper
Watch the paper leap up and stick to the pipe.
Experiment with how far away your pipe can be from the plate and still attract the paper.
Try this with a whole tissue (you may need to separate the tissue into its individual sheets) as well as with tiny pieces. Fine Christmas tinsel also works well.
Other Static Electricity tricks
1. Stick a balloon to the wall
Here’s one way to stick a balloon to the wall without leaving sticky marks!
Using static electricity again, rub a balloon against your hair, jumper or cloth and place it against the wall. Does it stick? For how long? Can you get it to stick to the ceiling?
2. Roll an empty can – as if by magic!
Impress your friends with this one! Lay an empty can on its side. Use the pvc pipe to create a static charge on your hair, jumper or cloth and move the pipe over the can. You should be able to roll it back and forth from quite a distance.
Why does your hair stand up when you jump on a trampoline?
This is a wonderfully visual demonstration of static electricity.
Jumping (and rolling around) on a trampoline can cause hair to transfer electrons to the trampoline so the hair becomes positively charged and, because each hair is all the same charge, they repel each other. In other words the strands of hair are literally pushing each other away. Some strands of hair have no place to go but up! (See the “bug analogy” above.)