Modern Physics

Static electricity: how it is produced, types and examples

The static electricity is the electric charge accumulation in an element is at rest. This type of electricity manifests itself when there is contact between the same number of protons (positively charged subatomic particles) and electrons (negatively charged subatomic particles).

Normally, this contact between protons and electrons is generated through the friction of two elements that have opposite charges. It is at this point that the effects of static electricity on bodies are physically evidenced.

How is static electricity produced?

Static electricity is produced when an excessively electrically charged body passes the excess electrons it houses to another body. This happens through the release of energy.

In turn, the body that receives the discharge of electrons is statically charged by a process called electrostatic induction. This discharge and charge of energy – from one body to another, respectively – can occur through sparks or some type of mechanical discharge.

The most common way to perceive static electricity is by rubbing two electrically charged bodies with opposite charges.

Here the energy balance is highlighted, since the body with a higher electron count produces this charge for the body with a lower electron count.

Even if a body has a very high electrostatic charge, electrons can “jump” directly onto the discharge object, which creates an electrical arc from the dielectric breakdown of the air.

In essence, the transfer of electrons from one body to another is due to the basic interaction between charges: opposite electrical charges attract and equal electrical charges repel.

The foregoing makes it possible for electrical charges, depending on the reaction induced by other bodies, to be transferred from one atom to another and move towards the surface of the bodies.

Consequently, the transfer of electrons from the body with a greater negative charge to the body and with less negative charge occurs, giving rise to the electrostatic phenomenon.


Static electricity can manifest itself in different ways depending on the nature and state (solid, liquid, gas) of the bodies involved in the process. Thus, static electricity can be presented in the following ways:

Load between solids

This process, also called triboelectrification, occurs when electrons are transferred between two solid bodies and occurs by direct friction or friction between the two bodies. Two examples of this type are:

glass electricity

It refers to the electrical charge that the glass acquires when its surface is broken.

resinous electricity

An effect similar to the vitreous electricity that occurs when rubbing a resin.

liquid loading

Liquids can be electrically charged when transported through pipes or when interacting with solid particles such as dust. In both cases, these are contacts between solids and liquids.

They can also be electrostatically charged when interacting with gases. However, the charge between liquids only occurs between very insulating liquids.

gas charge

Gases by themselves do not charge electrically. However, it is common to witness processes in which a gas serves as a means of transport between solid or liquid bodies.

In this way, gases play a secondary role in this type of process, as they only serve as a connection between the charging and electrostatic discharge elements.

powder loading

It is very common to witness the transfer of electrons between electrically charged powders, due to the nature of the materials and the variety of properties, shapes and sizes that can occur in the interaction.

real examples

Static electricity is present in everyday life. For example, we all witness the effects of hair electricity, popularly known as frizzy or frizzy hair.

Here are some real-life examples of static electricity to present common cases drawn from life itself:

– Inflate a balloon with air, tie a knot and rub it into the hair to transfer the charge from the hair to the balloon. You’ll see how your hair adheres to the balloon due to electrostatic charge, sometimes defying the effect of gravity.

– On a flat surface, put some salt or pepper. Simultaneously rub a plastic teaspoon with a woolen cloth, charge transfer will take place from cloth to teaspoon. Then bring the teaspoon towards the salt or pepper. You will see how the particles will approach the teaspoon due to the attraction of opposite electrical charges.

– Move the comb over the hair several times, especially if there is low humidity in the environment. The comb is charged with static electricity by transferring electrons from the hair to the comb. Then bring the comb to small pieces of cloth: you will see how they stick to the comb due to the attraction of opposite electrical charges.

– Lightning is a form of static electricity, since clouds, having direct contact with air molecules, adopt a certain electrical charge that must be transferred to balance your system. The only alternative to transferring excess electrons is to transfer this extra cost to another cloud over the air; there the lightning happens.

Do you have health risks?

Static electricity involves health hazards if the corresponding precautions are not taken.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, known by its acronym in English as OSHA, in case of generating high voltage discharges, they can cause painful shocks to people.

If sudden contact is made with an electrostatically charged object, that charge can flow through the person’s body, generating an electrical shock.

In this case, the consequences range from burns to cardiac effects, depending on the path that static electricity travels through the body.

Likewise, static electricity can be an ignition source for flammable substances and damage sensitive electronic connections.

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