Environment Shocking news on static electricity

Shocking news on static electricity

Zap! We’re all familiar with that sudden electric shock you can get from touching a car. But why does it occur?

The mystery has finally been solved by chemists at Curtin University, who believe the findings will benefit the mining, electronics and printing industries.

They showed that the breaking of chemical bonds – a pair of electrons – is what causes electrical charge to build up when one material rubs against together, resulting in static electricity.

“Children’s hair attracted to a party balloon, the static zap you get when stepping out of your car and the transfer of ink to the toner of a laser printer are all everyday examples of static electricity,” says study leader Simone Ciampi.

Scientists have previously disagreed over why some plastic surfaces – like balloons – build up more electrical charge than others upon contact with other surfaces, and why some become positively-charged and others negatively-charged, Ciampi says.

“The key discovery of this research was the revelation of a material-specific relationship between a plastic sample’s net charge and its ability to turn charged soluble metal ions into metallic solid deposits,” she says.

The revelation could help researchers design plastic materials where electrification upon contact can be maximised or prevented, Ciampi adds.

“These findings have many potential applications, including in the design of pipes transporting flammable hydrocarbons where charging and sparks are unwanted, in nanotechnology and in the design of laser printer toners,” she says.

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