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All of us have the experience of seeing a spark or hearing a crackle when we take off our synthetic clothes or sweater, particularly in dry weather.This is almost inevitable with ladies garments like a polyester saree. Have you ever tried to find any explanation for this phenomenon? Another common example of electric discharge is the lightning that we see in the sky during thunderstorms. We also experience a sensation of an electric shock either while opening the door of a car or holding the iron bar of a bus after sliding from our seat. The reason for these experiences is discharge of electric charges through our body, which were accumulated due to rubbing of insulating surfaces. You might have also heard that
this is due to generation of static electricity. This is precisely the topic we are going to discuss in this and the next chapter. Static means anything that does not move or change with time. Electrostatics deals with the study of forces, fields and potentials arising from static charges.


Historically the credit of discovery of the fact that amber rubbed with wool or silk cloth attracts light objects goes to Thales of Miletus, Greece, around 600 BC. The name electricity is coined from the Greek word elektron meaning amber. Many such pairs of materials were known which on rubbing could attract light objects like straw, pith balls and bits of papers.

You can perform the following activity at home to experience such an effect. Cut out long thin strips of white paper and lightly iron them.Take them near a TV screen or computer monitor. You will see that the strips get attracted to the screen. In fact they remain stuck to the screen for a while.

It was observed that if two glass rods rubbed with wool or silk cloth are brought close to each other, they repel each other [Fig. 1.1(a)]. The two strands of wool or two pieces of silk cloth, with which the rods were rubbed, also repel each other. However, the glass rod and wool attracted each other. Similarly, two plastic rods rubbed with cat’s fur repelled each other [Fig. 1.1(b)] but attracted the fur. On the other hand, the plastic rod attracts the glass rod [Fig. 1.1(c)] and repel the silk or wool with which the glass rod is rubbed. The glass rod repels the fur. If a plastic rod rubbed with fur is made to touch two small pith balls (now-a-days we can use polystyrene balls) suspended by silk or nylon thread, then the balls repel each other [Fig. 1.1(d)] and are also repelled by the rod. A similar effect is found if the pith balls are touched with a glass rod rubbed with silk [Fig. 1.1(e)]. A dramatic observation is that a pith ball touched with glass rod attracts another pith ball touched with plastic rod [Fig. 1.1(f )].

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