Shocking! The science of static

Static on the playground!

What makes your hair stand on end? Why does your skirt stick your tights? Why do you get zapped by electric shocks when you go to touch a doorknob? We answer those questions as we explore the science of static electricity.

We’ll also learn about the 18th-century parties where the goal was to shock, very literally, yourself and your loved ones. Plus: The first event in the first-ever Brains On Electric Games! It’s a dramatic tennis match between Benjamin Franklin and Jean-Antoine Nollet.

Spoiler alert: See where the mystery sound came from by clicking here.

This is the first in a four-part series:

• Part Two: High voltage! How electric power reaches your outlet

• Part Three: Charged up! The science of batteries

• Part Four: The nerve! Electricity in our bodies

Special thanks to the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis for their help with this series!

Bend water with static electricity!

Here’s what you’ll need:
– Something that picks up electrons easily (like a plastic comb, an inflated balloon, a styrofoam cup)
– Something that gives away electrons easily (like your hair, wool, fur)
– Running water

1. Turn on the faucet so the water is coming out in as thin a stream as possible without it coming out in droplets.

2. Rub one thing from the first category against something from the second category (i.e. run the comb through your hair, rub the cup against your hair) for a few seconds.

3. Slowly move the comb or cup or balloon toward the water. Watch what happens!