Static electricity refers to the electric charges stored on a conductor.
When a plastic pen is rubbed with a cloth, it acquires the property of attracting small bits of paper or light objects. In this case, the
plastic pen is said to be electrified.
Electrification by rubbing was observed a long time ago by ancient Greeks. After the discovery of electricity, things were grouped into two groups, electrics and non-electrics.
Electrics refer to things which are readily electrified while non-electrics are reverse of the former.
The two Types of Charges
There are two types of charge:
Identification of charge
Suspend a polythene rod A rubbed with fur. Bring another polythene rod B rubbed with fur up to the rod A. Take a plastic rod and rub it with fur. Bring the plastic rod to up to the suspended rod A. Repeat the exercise with acetate and glass rod rubbed with silk cloth.
An electrified polythene rod repels another electrified polythene rod. An acetate rod rubbed with silk repels another acetate rod rubbed with silk cloth but it attracts a plastic rod rubbed with fur.
Polythene and plastic when rubbed with fur becomes electrified with the same kind of electricity known as negative electricity (charge).
and glass when rubbed with silk cloth becomes electrified with the same kind of electricity called positive electricity(charge).
Charging is the process of electrifying a body.
A positively charged body carries positive charges and a negatively charged body carries negative charges.The symbols used for positive and negative charges are + and – respectively.
The Fundamental Law of Static Electricity
The Fundamental law of electrostatic charges states that:“Like charges repel each other while unlike charges attract each other”
Charging Bodies Using Different Methods
In order to understand the process of charging we have to understand the
structure of bodies or things. All bodies are made up of extremely small, indestructible bits of matter called atoms.
An atom consists of a nucleus surrounded by electrons. The nucleus consists of proton and neutron.The protons are positively charged while electrons are negatively charged and the neutrons are neutral.
The whole atom is electrically neutral because it contain equal number of protons and electrons.
The following are the methods of charging;
Charging by rubbing
A polythene rod rubbed with fur becomes negatively charged.Rubbing results in the transfer of electrons from fur to the polythene rod.
Fur becomes positively charged because some of its electrons are transferred to the polythene rod.The polythene gains excess electrons
and hence it becomes negatively charged.
Note:It is only the electrons in matter which can be transferred by rubbing.
Charging by induction
A charged polythene rod is held near uncharged copper rod suspended from a cotton thread.
The electrons of the copper rod are repelled by the negatively charged
polythene rod.Hence the electrons move to the far side of the copper
leaving behind a net positive charge on the side facing the polythene
Touch the copper rod with your finger when the charged rod is still in
position. The electrons from copper rod flow through your body to the
earth. Leaving it with a net positive charge. Remove the finger from the
copper rod and finally remove the charged polythene rod.
The rod has therefore been positively charged by electrostatic
induction.The charges that appear on the copper rod are called induced charges.
Charging by contact
A charged body (eg; positively charged metal can) is brought in contact with uncharged body B.
Detection of Charges
The Structure of a Gold-leaf Electroscope
The instrument used to detect the presence of electric charges is called gold leaf electroscope. It consists of an insulated brass rod with two pieces of thin gold foil at one end and a brass cap at the other end.
When the brass cap is touched with a charged object the leaves of the electroscope spread out. This is because the charge on the object is
conducted through the brass cap and the brass rod to the leaves.
As they received the same kind of charge, the leaves repel each other and thus spread apart, this is charging by contact.
If you touch the brass cap with your finger, the charge is transferred through your body to the earth and the leaves of the electroscope then
Function of an electroscope
Testing for the sign of the charge on the body.
Identifying the insulating properties of materials.
Detecting the presence of charge on a body.
The Sign of Charges
The true sign on a body has to be determined before use; the instrument that can be used to determine the presence of charge is called an
An electrophorus consists of a circular slab of insulating material (polythene) together with a brass disc (conductor) on an insulating
An electrophorus works by electrostatic insulation and hence can be used to generate positive charges from single negative charges. The charge produced on the insulating slab is negative. The top disc is then placed on it. Since the surface is only in contact at relatively few points, a positive charge is induced on the lower surface and corresponding negative charge is produced on its top surface.
The top of the upper disc is then touched briefly using a finger, hereby carrying away the negative charge to the earth; this is called EARTHING.
Steps of Charging and Discharging of a Gold-leaf Electroscope
Identify steps of charging and discharging of a gold-leaf electroscope
polythene slab is charged negative by rubbing it with fur. The brass
disc is then placed on top of the slab so that the two charges become
induced onto respective materials.
does not negatively charge the disc because it is not flat and makes
contact with the slab at a few points only. When the brass disc is
touched with a finger, electrons on the upper surface are repelled to
There is a force of attraction between the metal disc and the base. A spark (electric energy) is normally produced upon their separation. This spark can be used for lighting gas burners in laboratory.
The electrophorus can now be used to charge a gold leaf electroscope.
It can be used to charge a gold leaf electroscope by:
Here a positively charged electrophorus is made to touch the brass cap of the gold-leaf electroscope. The leaf of the gold-leaf electroscope
When a charged electrophorus is brought into contact with the electroscope,
the latter gets charged and the leaves diverge. It acquires a negative charge. This is determined using the charged rods. When a positively
charged glass rod is brought near the cap. It causes the leaf to collapse.
Induction- is the transfer of opposite effects from one body to another without contact.
In order to obtain a charge of a given sign, the inducing charge must be
of an opposite charge. If charge is placed on an insulator at a given
location the excess charge will remain at the initial location. The
particles of the insulator do not permit the free flow of electrons.
Charge present in an insulator or conductor.
Discharging a gold leaf electroscope
Having charged a gold leaf electroscope by contact and induction, the same can be discharged effectively through induction.
If while the electroscope is being charged by induction you touch the
brass cap, electrons will leave the electroscope through your hand and
onto the ground. If the charged metal rod is removed, the electroscope
will remain charged. The charge remaining on the electroscope will be
the opposite of the charge on the rod.
If a negatively charged object is now brought near the brass cap electrons
in the brass cap are repelled and moved down to the leaves. This
cancels the positive charge. With no net charge, the leave collapse back
If the object is removed, the electrons return to the metal cap leaving
the leaves of the electroscope with a net positive charge again and they
Conductors and Insulatorsr
Are bodies, which readily allow electric charge in motion to flow through them
Are materials that permit some electrons to flow freely from atom to atom
within the materials examples are copper, steel, iron, silver and gold.
When there is excess of positive or negative charge on an object made of a
conducting material, the conduction electrons will move to minimise the
These are bodies, which do not allow electric charges to flow through it.
Insulators on the other hand do not allow their electrons to flow freely
from at atom to atom; this is because the electrons in their atoms move
around their nuclei in various equal magnitudes to the charge on the
protons. The electrons are also firmly attracted to the nucleus hence
bound to these atoms.
Capacitor is a device which is used for the storage of charges consisting of two
conductors, parallel-nearly separated by air or any other dielectric.Dielectric is an insulating medium used between plates of a capacitor.
Mode of Action of a Capacitance
Consider two unequal metal cans which were made to stand on the caps of two
identical electroscopes.These cans are given equal charges of Q units
from an electrophorus disc. The charged disc is lowered inside a can
until it touches the bottom. In this way the whole of the charge is
given up to the can and goes to the outside.
It will be noticed that the leaf divergence is greater for the small can,
showing that it has acquired higher potential than the larger can.In
this case, the larger can is said to have a larger capacitance while the
smaller can has a lower capacitance.When the two cans are joined by a
wire electricity flows from the smaller can to the larger can until
potentials are equalized.
The Action of a Capacitor
The positive charge on A induces an equal and opposite charges on opposite
sides of B. These induced charges will respectively raise and lower the
potential of all points in their neighborhood and in particular they
will affect the potential of plate A.
As far as A is connected , however the negative induced charge will have the greater effect. The net result is is that the potential of A is
B is next earthed either by touching it with a finger or by connecting it
to the nearest cold-water pipe. Immediately the leaf shows a great
decrease in divergence. This implies a big decrease in potential, and
hence a big increase in capacitance of A.The presence of the earthed
plate B results in a very large increase in the capacitance of A.
Construction of an Air-filled Capacitor
Describe the construction of an air-filled capacitor
This constitute two parallel metal plates with air band between them.A flat
metal A is set up vertically on insulating legs and is connected to a
gold leaf electroscope by means of a wire.
The plate is then given a positive charge by induction with a negatively
charged ebonite rod. The divergence of the leaf indicates the potential
of the plate.A second insulated plate B is now brought up slowly into a
position parallel to A.
When B is very close to A but not touching it, it will be noticed that the leaf divergence decreases very slightly.We conclude from this that the potential of A has been decreased by the presence of B, and hence its capacitance has increased slightly.
Equivalence Capacitance of a Combination of Capacitors
Factors affecting the capacitance of a parallel-plate capacitor.
There are three factors which affect the capacitance of a parallel-plate capacitor, namely;
Area of plates
Distance apart of the plates.
Dielectric between the plates.
Relative permeability (dielectric constant) of a medium
is the ratio of the capacitance of a given capacitor with the medium as dielectric to the capacitance of the capacitor with a vacuum as the
It has no units since it is a ration of similar quantities.Paraffin wax has a relative permeability of about 2 while that of mica is about 8.
Charge Distribution Along the Surface of a Conductor
Charge on a Conductor Reside on its Outer Surface
Recognise that charge on a conductor reside on its outer surface
Usually, charges are distributed on the outer surface of conductors of different shapes.
Investigating surface distribution of a charge on conductors
A proof plane is pressed into contact with the surface at various places of the conductor.
The charges on the proof plane are then transferred to the electroscope.
The divergence of the leaf will give a rough measure of the amount of
charge transferred and hence surface density of the charge.
Charge on a Conductor is Concentrated on Sharply Curved Surfaces
Show that charge on a conductor is concentrated on sharply curved surfaces
So far we have considered excess charges on a smooth, symmetrical
conductor surface. What happens if a conductor has sharp corners or is
pointed? Excess charges on a nonuniform conductor become concentrated at
the sharpest points. Additionally, excess charge may move on or off the
conductor at the sharpest points.
To see how and why this happens, consider the charged conductor. The
electrostatic repulsion of like charges is most effective in moving them
apart on the flattest surface, and so they become least concentrated
there. This is because the forces between identical pairs of charges at
either end of the conductor are identical, but the components of the
forces parallel to the surfaces are different. The component parallel to
the surface is greatest on the flattest surface and, hence, more
effective in moving the charge.
The same effect is produced on a conductor by an externally applied electric field, as seen inFigure(c). Since the field lines must be
perpendicular to the surface, more of them are concentrated on the most curved parts.
Excess charge on a nonuniform conductor becomes most concentrated at the location of greatest curvature.
(a) The forces between identical pairs of charges at either end of the conductor are identical, but the components of the forces parallel to the surface are different. It is F∥that moves the charges apart once they have reached the surface.
(b)F∥is smallest at the more pointed end, the charges are left closer together, producing the electric field shown.
(c) An uncharged conductor in an originally uniform electric field is polarized, with the most concentrated charge at its most pointed end.
Lightning is a gigantic electric spark discharge occurring between two charged clouds or between a cloud and the earth.
is a long pointed iron rod with its lower end buried in the earth and
the other above the highest part of the building which is used to
protect the building from lightning damage.
The Structure and Mode of Action of Lightning Conductor
Structure of a lightning conductor
It consists of a long thick pointed copper rod with its lower end buried
in the earth(earth plate) and the other end reaching above the highest
part of the building and ending in several sharp spikes. -It is fixed to
the side of the building.
Mode of action of lightning conductor
When a negatively charged thunder-cloudpasses overhead it acts inductively on the conductor,charging the points positively and the earth plate negatively.
The negative charge on the plate is, of course, immediately dissipated into the surrounding earth. At the same time point action occurs at the spikes. Negative ions are attracted to the spikes and becomes discharged by giving up their electrons. These electrons then pass down the conductor and escape to earth.
At the same time positive ions are repelled upwards from the spikes and spread out to form what is called a space charge. This positive space charge, however, has a negligible effect in neutralizing the negative charge on the cloud.
Note:Without the protection of a lightning conductor the lightning usually strikes the highest point, generally a chimney, and the current passes to earth through the path of least resistance. Considerable heat is generated by the passage of the current and sometimes it may set into fire.