Charged Balloons

In Mary Shelly’s time, people were starting to experiment with the mysterious natural forces of electricity and magnetism. They didn’t have the sophisticated technology we have today to produce, measure, and control those forces. Instead they used everyday objects and their imaginations. For example, Benjamin Franklin imagined that he could show that lightning is a form of electricity by flying a kite in a storm.

You can demonstrate that electricity and magnetic forces are related with things you probably have around the house.

You can download and print these instructions.

Materials

Collect these materials:

  1. 2 balloons
  2. a ruler
  3. a 4-foot length of string (use the ruler!)
  4. wool fabric—a sweater, or carpet, or scarf


Recipe

WHAAAAT!?

Without any help from you, the balloons bounce and swing and bounce and swing, right?…until the charge wears off. What is going on?

When you rub the balloon against the wool, the friction between those two different materials causes a static electric charge to build up on one side of the balloon. (It’s called a tribolectric effect, if you want to google it to learn the technical details.) When the two charged sides of the balloons are facing, they repel each other, like two positive (or two negative) sides of two magnets. When the balloons swing around so that a charged side of one faces the uncharged side of the other, there is no repelling magnetic force so they touch (and bounce a bit).

Show us what you made!

Did you make some charged balloons? Then share it with us! We love seeing what people make.

SHARE YOUR CREATION!

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