Who knew static electricity could do that?

It zaps us when we touch metal in dry weather. It makes our clothes cling and our hair stand up. No wonder static electricity gets a bad rap. We can blame it for attracting dust to TV and computer screens and − perhaps worst of all − holding dust bunnies together! (The more static charge, the bigger the dust bunny.)

But it’s not all bad – really! Static electricity is the accumulation of an electrical charge in an object. Opposite charges attract one another, and similar charges repel one another. The same electrical principles that zap you when you walk across carpet and touch a doorknob also help:

  • Print your documents. An electrostatic belt inside photocopiers and printers captures an image of the original document and transfers it to paper.
  • Give your car a good coat of paint. When paint droplets and metal car parts receive opposite charges, the two charges attract. Result: a tough, uniform coat of paint that sticks to the car.
  • Scrub the air clean. Home air purifiers use static electricity to attract dirt particles in the air. Industrial smokestacks reduce pollution with electrostatic precipitators that do the same thing, on a much larger scale.
  • Protect your house from lightning. Ben Franklin proved, through his famous kite experiment, that lightning was static electricity — and invented the lightning rod and conductor to give lightning an alternate path to the earth.

Shock-absorbing tips

  • In dry weather, touch metal objects with a key, coin or ring instead of your fingers.
  • Wearing cotton clothing and leather soles can reduce static electricity.
  • Dust your TV and computer screens with a fabric softener sheet.

And did you know….

The words electricity and electronic come from the Greek word elektron, which means…amber!  The ancient Greeks noticed that when amber was rubbed with cloth or animal fur it attracted light objects, like hair. So they named the power to attract particles in amber’s honor.

Thanks to Flicker user johnwilson1969 for the hair-raising photo!