Rubbing a cloth on a plastic PVC pipe generates a lot of static electricity on the pipe. Lay an empty soda can on its side, and hold the pipe near the can. The can will roll towards the pipe.
Wipe the pipe with your hand, then put the pipe near the can. Now the can will not roll, or will respond less strongly.
This activity teaches about static electricity. It also shows that neutral objects are attracted to charged objects.
- a foot-long piece of PVC pipe
- A cloth
- One or more empty soda cans
PVC pipe is white plastic hollow pipe used for plumbing, usually 3/4 or 1 inch in diameter. If you don't have some scraps laying around from a home improvement project, you can pick it up at any hardware store. Sometimes they may let you take scrap ends for free, look around the bins near the cutting stations.
PVC works the best of the common materials we've tried, but you can try other plastic or glass rods or pipes. Metal pipes will not work, since they are conductors.
Any cloth will do: cleaning rags, tshirts, sweaters, blankets.
Wash soda cans before use. We usually put a piece of duct tape over the opening and tab to cover the sharp metal edges. Don't use dented cans, they need to be able to roll freely. Have spares on hand, cans will get dented very quickly.
Hair also responds well to static electricity, but not if it's too short or too thick. Long fine hair works the best.
Packing peanuts also respond strongly to static electricity (sometimes annoyingly so). You can try those, or any bits of styrofoam like pieces of a cup.
Can you figure out a setup to show two charged objects repelling? You can try hanging a can from a string.