Electric Spoon

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. table salt
  2. ground black pepper
  3. a plastic spoon
  4. a piece of cloth (wool works best)
  5. a piece of paper to work on


Recipe

What’s Going On!?

When you rub the spoon against the cloth, the friction between those two different materials causes a static electric charge to build up on the spoon. (It’s called a tribolectric effect, if you want to google it to learn the technical details.) When you lower the negatively charged spoon near the salt and pepper, the mixture acquires the charge from the spoon—it’s called electrostatic induction (you can look that up too). The charge goes in the same direction as the spoon’s, so the bottoms of the salt and pepper bits get a negative charge, and the tops get a positive charge—the opposite of the spoon. Opposites attract, so the tops of the salt and pepper bits are attracted to the spoon. Fine pepper grounds are lighter than salt crystals, and they will jump to the spoon first…so if you want to separate the mixture, just keep rubbing and pulling out the pepper grounds!

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