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What causes Static electricity? –

What causes Static electricity? –

Hello reader, I welcome you to this article. I am a student of Science and I write articles over different fields of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and etc. Before getting started, I must acknowledge you that the study of “Static electricity and it’s cause” takes time. Meanwhile, this article has been prepared in order to enrich your knowledge while saving your time and effort too! Read the article till the end and I’m sure it will help you clear your understanding about the causes of Static electricity.


Static electricity is an amount of charge at rest. The amount of charge is measured in Coulomb. In certain conditions, this amount of charge can move from one body to another. This movement is fast and it lasts only for a fraction of second.

Static electricity also relates to the build-up of charge difference between two surfaces. It can also be understood as an excess of charge on one surface while a deficiency on the other.

Excess charge always remains in it’s place unless it has a path through which it can flow. Usually, there is no real path through which excess charge can flow, so, it remains in the place for a while and this accumulation of charge is known as “Static electricity”. Let’s get into further details…

Read this example and try to repeat it at home.

Take a plastic comb and comb your hair, then suddenly put it near small pieces of paper. You will notice the pieces of paper getting stuck to the comb. This happens due to the attraction between charged particles in the comb and the paper! But how did this happen? While combing the hair, loose electrons from the surface of the hair get transferred to the surface of the comb. The comb was neutral earlier but these extra electrons make it negatively charged. When this charged comb is put near the pieces of paper, the extra electrons put an extra force of attraction on the protons located on the surface of the paper (neutral). Thus, attraction happens. This is just a simple example of a phenomenon that occurs due to Static electricity. The more important thing is, where does the story of Static electricity start from?

Electrostatics is the branch of Physics that deals with the study of ‘charge’ at rest. Static electricity is nothing but an amount of charge resting at a point in space. To understand Static electricity, a complete understanding of charge, it’s properties and it’s interactions with another charge is important! So, let’s get into the details of the charge at first.

What is the importance of charge?

Do you know? Subatomic particles such as Electrons, Protons and Neutrons do not touch each other! No they don’t! Actually, if they do touch each other physically then there is a fair chance that they will annihilate each other. Thus, to prevent such disaster from happening these particles interact with each other through fields. This field is directly related to the amount of charge in the particle. We will discuss the properties of field later in this section. But let’s try to develop an understanding of charge at first.

What is charge?

Just like mass and amount of substance, charge is also a fundamental quantity in nature. For simple understanding, consider it as an energy that creates a field around subatomic particles. Through this field, these particles interact with each other in an orderly manner. An interesting thing to know, is that the charge of a neutron is neutral or zero!

Static electricity

Subatomic particles such as electrons and protons with the help of charge in them, develop an electric field around themselves.


The field around a proton is directed outwards while the field around an electron is directed inwards. The picture of electric field lines was developed by Faraday.

How was the concept of charge developed?


Historically, the credit of discovery of the fact that amber rubbed with silk or wool cloth attracts light object goes to Thales from Miletus, Greece, around 600BC.

Benjamin Franklin

In 1752, the American scientist named Benjamin Franklin conducted his famous kite experiment to show that the lightening in the sky and electric current are the same phenomena. Later on, he classified charges into two categories – Positive and Negative. By convention, the charge on a proton is considered positive and the charge on an electron is negative.

What are the basic details of a particle possessing charge?

ParticleMassChargeRelative charge
Electron9.11 × 10^-28 gm.1.6 × 10^-19 C.-1
Proton1.67 × 10^-24 gm.1.6 × 10^-19 C.+1
Neutron1.67 × 10^-24 gm.0 CNeutral

The magnitude of charge on an electron is approximately 1.6 × 10^-19 Coulomb or -1 and the magnitude of charge on a proton is also 1.6 × 10^-19 Coulomb but +1.

How do these particles interact with each other?

It is well known that negatively charged particles (electrons) reside in outer space while positively charged particles (protons) together with the neutral particles (neutrons) occupy the central space of the atom. Electrons have the ability to move from one atom to another while protons and neutrons stay in their place. This ability of elections is also responsible for the formation of chemical bonds.

Though the magnitude of charges is equal they are opposite in nature. Like charges repel each other and unlike charges attract each other. That’s why there is a force of attraction between electron-proton but there is a force of repulsion between proton-proton and electron-electron!

What are the properties of charge itself?

Charge is conserved and quantized. Quantization of charge means that, if Q is the total amount of charge on an object, then it can be calculated as Q=Ne, where N is a positive integer and e is equal to 1.6×10^-19 Coulomb. Conservation of charge is another really important property to understand. It means that neither a charge can be created nor it can be destroyed. Charge can only be transferred from one body to another. There are several factors that are responsible for this. The most important factor to understand is this, “every atom in the universe wants stability and stability can be easily disturbed by addition or reduction of some charge in/from the atom. So, whenever an atom gains or loses any of it’s particle, it’s stability either increases or decreases. Hence, the most stable elements do not urge to react with any other element at all! Noble gases such as Helium, Neon, Argon are some examples.

Let us understand the possible methods of how an amount of charge can be developed on a body.

Charging by Conduction.

Take a metallic sphere of small size. Put it on a stand that is an excellent insulator. Take, for example, a stand made up of dry wood. Now bring another sphere that has an extra amount of charge already on it. Remember, use only insulated gloves to carry the already charged sphere. Now, touch the charged sphere with the non-charged sphere, and quickly the extra charge will get distributed to both of the spheres in equal amounts. Thus, the non-charged sphere will also get charged and this is charging by conduction.

Charging by Induction.

Again, take a small sphere and put it on an insulated stand. This time, connect the sphere with a metallic wire. The other end of the wire should be attached with the ground. Take another sphere that is charged and bring it close to the first sphere. Do not forget to use insulated hand gloves.

Consider that the second sphere is negatively charged. As you bring the negatively charged sphere closer to the neutral sphere, the negative charges on the neutral sphere will escape through the metallic wire to the ground. Now, suddenly remove the wire from the sphere and slowly .move the negatively charged sphere away. Thus, the number of negative charge becomes less than the number of positive charge on the already neutral sphere. Hence, the neutral sphere becomes positively charged.

Charging through Friction.

This is the most common and simple method of charging a neutral body. It is quite interesting too!

Remember combing your hair with a plastic comb? Yes we are talking about the example that we considered earlier. The comb and the hair were neutral previously but combing leads to transfer of extra energy to the hair cells due to friction. So, to cope up with this extra energy that the atoms of the hair cells have gained, the atoms loose some of it’s electrons! These lost electrons get stuck to the comb. Thus, the comb becomes negatively charged. When the negatively charged comb is brought close to the pieces of paper, the extra electrons start attracting the protons in the atoms located on the surface of pieces of paper. Hence, paper being light gets stuck to the comb.

I’m sure you must have learnt something from this example. Can you use your understandings to describe the phenomena of lightening???

During a thunderstorm, due to friction, a huge amount of free electrons get accumulated at the bottom line of the cloud. This leads to a huge amount of potential build-up of around 1 billion volts! Such an amount of energy accumulation is enough to break the barrier of permittivity of air. Thus, air itself becomes the conductor and electrons rapidly move towards the surface of the earth. This phenomenon is visible as lightning bolts across the sky.

Do you know about ESD?



No, no, no it’s not a disease or disorder! It’s Electrostatic Discharge. But, what is it and why are we discussing it here? ESD is a phenomenon that helps us in explaining incidents like getting a shock while suddenly touching a metal knob, sparks coming out of spark plugs or the lightning in a thunderstorm. ESD is nothing else but a sudden discharge of excessive charge from one body to another. After knowing all this, you should be able to answer to questios like : Why do we get a shock while touching a metal knob occasionally? Another question, Is ESD the same as Current electricity? Nope! Current electricity is a phenomena that happens for a finite amount of time but Electrostatic discharge happens for less than a second.

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