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Static Reactions

Lightning, balloons, combs and even Life Savers® candy ... static electricity affects your life in many ways. Factories use static electricity to cut down the amount of pollution exiting from their smokestacks.

They charge the smoke with static electricity. When it passes by any charged piece of metal in the smokestack, most of the smoke clings to the metal. This keeps the pollution from going out into the air.

Some car makers use static electricity to help them paint cars. They put the car in a paint booth. Then they charge the paint with static electricity. Next they spray a fine mist of paint into the booth. The charged paint particles are attracted to the car like a charged balloon sticks to a wall. Once the paint dries, it sticks much better to the car and is smoother.
When a gasoline truck fills the underground tanks at a gas station, they are very careful. The gas flowing into the tank can cause static electricity. A static electrical spark could cause an explosion of the gasoline.
Static electricity can also cause problems in large grain storage bins. When farmers pour the wheat or grain into the bin, the air gets filled with a lot of very fine dust. Any spark caused by static electricity can cause the dust to start fire and explode. BOOM!
You also need to be careful about static electricity. If you have a build up of static electricity on you and happen to touch a computer circuit board, the spark - even a very small one - can really damage the computer. You could fry the microchips. That is why people who work on computers are very careful to avoid the build up of static electricity.

The race is on!

It’s a race to the finish!


  • One Lab partner
  • Printout of the horse pattern at the right
  • Crayons
  • Scissors
  • Balloon for each person
  • Piece of wool to charge the balloons


Each partner is to do the following:

  1. Color and decorate a horse. You may even want to give your horse a name.
  2. Cut out your horse. Cut around the body of the horse, but do not cut along the fold line.
  3. Fold along the dotted line, making sure your horse can “stand up.”
  4. Find a flat surface that is at least the length of a student desk. A table also works nicely.
  5. Use the wool to charge your balloon.
  6. Place your horses at one end of the desk or table.
  7. Using string or tape, to make a finish line at the opposite end of the desk or table.
  8. Stand behind, to the side of, or in front of your horse. You will use your charged balloons to make the horses move along the surface.
  9. You should never let the balloon touch your horse at any time. You may only use static electricity to push or pull your horse towards the finish line.
  10. The first horse to cross the finish line wins!


Get the plug-ins: Get Adobe Acrobat Reader , and Get Quicktime Player. (The QuickTime plug-in is needed to play sounds and movies correctly.)

Want to share photos of you or your friends doing this activity? Send it in an e-mail with the following information:

  1. The title of the activity
  2. The URL (Internet address)
  3. Your name.
Remember that no pictures can be used that show student faces or student names on it. 

Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE 5th grade science core.

Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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