Static Electricity

The average person uses a lot of electricity in the many things they do every day. We are used to being able to turn on a light, watch the television, use our mobile devices, and stream music or videos. Because electricity is so much a part of our lives, we should know something about it.

Pretty much everyone has experienced some form of static electricity. It happens during less humid conditions such as the winter time and you walk across the carpet and touch the metal on the refrigerator.

That sudden little shock and the “snap” sound is static electricity. Another form of static electricity is lightning.

The definition of static electricity is the buildup of an electrical charge on the surface of an object. Scientists call it “static” which means non-changing because it remains in one location instead of flowing or moving to another place.

Static electricity details

As we have learned about electricity we have seen that atoms are made up of neutrons, protons, and electrons.

The nucleus of an atom is made from the neutrons and protons, and the electrons are spinning on the outside of the nucleus. This information is important because it explains a bit more about static electricity.

A static charge happens when two surfaces touch each other and the electrons move from one object to the second object. One object will have a positive charge and the other object will have a negative charge.

In the case of our example above, the buildup happens from the friction caused from walking across the carpet and the electrons move from your body to the surface of the refrigerator.

The energy that is built up will react based on the “polarity” of the object it is on and touches. When you slide down a metal slide you might notice that all of your hair stands up straight.

This is due to the friction that is being created that causes a positive charge to be built on each hair. Since your hair has the same positive charge, it will be a positive to positive, and each hair will push itself away from the other one causing them to stand up straight.

Natural static discharge

Is static electricity useful?

While you might not like the sharp shock that you get when you experience static electricity, there are some real world uses for it.

One of the biggest uses is in photocopiers and printers. These devices make use of static electricity to attract the toner or ink to the paper. Another big use is in air filters, paint sprayers and dust removal.

Static electricity is a danger to electronics

One of the major problems with today’s electronics is that even a small spark of static electricity can destroy the data. Some of the electronic chips that we use in digital electronics are incredibly sensitive to static electricity.

This is one of the reasons that manufacturers and technicians have special storage bags that they use that are anti-static. When technicians are repairing or working on the electronics they wear special “grounding straps” around their wrists that keep static electricity from building up in their bodies.

Danger to devices with static electricity is especially bad when dealing with semiconductors, and manufacturing companies go to extensive lengths at their plants to keep static electricity from happening.

Fun facts about static electricity

  • A static electricity spark can be as much as a thousand volts, but it has a small amount of current and doesn’t last long. This means low energy or power.
  • Lightning is the most powerful example of static electricity that we have on Earth.
  • Although incredibly dangerous, about 70% of the people struck by lightning do survive; many have lifelong medical problems.
  • A lightning bolt can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • When lightning strikes the sand on the beach the heat can turn the sand into glass and it looks exactly like that portion of the lightning bolt.


What is the definition of static electricity?
the buildup of an electrical charge on the surface of an object

Why do we call it “static”?
static means non-changing and the electricity will remain until the surface of another object is touched

What is the polarity of two objects that touch each other and experience static electricity?
positive and negative

Why is static electricity dangerous to electronic devices?
static electricity can damage the sensitive equipment

What is the most powerful example of static electricity on Earth?