Have you ever slid down a slide only to find your hair sticking straight up afterwards? That’s static! I’m sure you’ve heard of static before, but what does it really mean?
That’s not to say that atoms cannot be broken apart--they can! Each atom is made up of three kinds of particles--the protons, neutrons, and electrons. The protons and neutrons are tightly packed together in the center of the atom called a nucleus. That’s the ball you see in the diagram below. The electrons are much farther away and actually rotate around the nucleus. An atom is kind of like a solar system! Think of the nucleus as the sun and the electrons as the much smaller planets in orbit around it.
Neutrons = Neutral charge (no charge)
Protons = Positive charge
Electrons = Negative charge
This carbon atom has 6 protons and 6 electrons, so it has an overall neutral charge.
As you probably know, objects with opposite charges attract each other and those with like charges repel each other. When an object becomes negatively charged, it can also attract objects with a neutral charge. For example, when you place a balloon against a wall, it falls to the ground. But when you rub a balloon against your hair, it gains electrons. Then when you place it on a wall, it sticks. This is because the negatively charged balloon is attracted to the protons in the wall.
YOU WILL NEED
- Plastic comb
- Dry hair
Here’s what to do!
- Turn on the faucet so a steady but narrow stream of water is flowing. It should be only a few millimeters across, but make sure it’s steady enough that it’s not just water droplets.
- Run the plastic comb through your hair about ten times.
- Slowly move the comb toward the stream of water, but be careful not to touch it. What happens?
- You should have seen the stream of water bend towards the comb, almost like magic! But this isn’t magic, it’s just simple science!
Extension: You can also do this experiment with a balloon instead of a comb. You would blow up the balloon and rub it against your hair for a few seconds, then bring it close to the stream of water just like you did with the comb. Try using the balloon to see if you can get the same results.