The build-up of an electric charge on the surface of an object is called static electricity. The charges of the electricity remain in one area, or remains 'static', and they do not move or 'flow' to another area. Static electricity can be observed every day such as when a person rubs their feet on the carpet and then gets zapped when they touch something.
It is static electricity that builds upon the surface of the skin and then it discharges onto what is touched. Other examples include the hair on a person's head when it sticks straight up or when pant legs keep sticking to a person's legs. It is all static electricity that builds up on the surface of the objects.
Static electricity comes from the interaction of atoms. Atoms are made up of tiny particles called protons, neutrons, and electrons. The nucleus of an atom is made up of neutrons and protons, and the electrons spin on the outside of the nucleus. The static electricity is created when the electrons from one object move to the other object. One object has a negative charge and the other has a positive charge. When objects are rubbed together quickly, there will be a greater charge.
Items with negative and positive charges, different charges, will attract, while items with similar charges will push away from each other, just like with a magnet. An example is when a person slides down a slide, and the friction of sliding causes a positive charge to be built up on each hair. Each hair has the same charge meaning they will try to push away from each other causing them to stand up.
In the same manner, if the skin is charged with static electricity and the person touches metal, which is a good conductor of electricity, it will quickly discharge the static electricity creating a zap or sometimes a small spark.
There are several applications for static electricity in the real world, and not just for getting zapped by touching things. It is used in printers and copying machines. The static electric charges attract the ink, or toner, to the paper. Static electricity is also used for paint sprayers, air filters, and dust removal.
Though static electricity can be helpful, it can also cause damage. For example, some electronic chips like those inside computers are very sensitive to static electricity. Special bags are often used to store electrical components, so they are not damaged or destroyed by the static charges. In addition, people who work with these kinds of electronics must wear special straps that keep them 'grounded'. In this way, they do not build up a static charge and cause damage to the electronic components.
There is very little current with static electricity and it only lasts for a short period of time, though it can measure thousands of volts. Overall, it has very little power or energy. However, lightning is a powerful and dangerous example of static electricity, and the temperatures in a lightning bolt can hit 50,000°F. Finally, static electricity builds up much more and faster on a dry, non-humid day.
In summary, static electricity is created due to the interaction between the particles of atoms of different objects. Most times, static electricity does not cause many problems and it can be helpful, but it may damage some electronic components and as part of lightning strikes it can be deadly.
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