This post was contributed by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Jackie Frole, who works with kids in the Learning Club program.
On a blustery 20-degree day, after pulling my winter hat off my head and watching my hair fly up like the Bride of Frankenstein, I realized that cold weather is good for something…static! Static (cling and shock) occurs because of the build up of electric charge on objects. Lucky for us, static works best when the weather is dry, like during the cold winter months.
I could go on and on about the phenomena of electrons, but instead, here are a few fun indoor static experiments to try at home. These activities have been tested and approved by kids in Learning Clubs, the Museum’s after-school outreach program that leads hands-on science activities for elementary school-age children. These last days of winter are perfect for science exploration while staying indoors and out of the fickle March cold!
Turn a sink faucet on so that it has a light but steady stream of water. Rub a balloon against a piece of wool or on your hair. Hold the balloon close to the stream of water and watch as it bends towards the balloon!
Use tape to create start and finish lines on the floor. Line up empty soda cans on their sides at the start line. Each racer gets a balloon and rubs it on a piece of wool or their hair. Hold the balloon in front of the soda can (no touching!) and watch it roll toward the balloon See how fast you can get your can to roll, or experiment with different size balloons and cans.
For this experiment you need a small Styrofoam tray and a small aluminum tray (a pie tray or tin foil both work). Rub the Styrofoam tray with a piece of wool or on your hair and place it down on the ground. Pick up the aluminum tray and drop it on top of the Styrofoam tray. Turn off the lights, slowly bring your finger close to the aluminum tray, and watch a small spark jump from the tray to your hand!
Gather different types of powders (flour, detergent, salt, pepper, rice, sprinkles, etc.) and lay them out individually. Charge a balloon by rubbing it against a piece of wool or your hair. Then hold the charged part of the balloon an inch above the powders and watch as they fly up and stick to the balloon. Test out other powders and see what works best.