Science Concept: What Is Static Electricity?
Atoms contain charged particles called protons and electrons. Protons
have a positive charge, while electrons have a negative charge.
When an atom has the same number of protons as electrons, the charges
cancel each other out and the atom is electrically neutral.
But atoms can lose or gain electrons. An atom that loses electrons
becomes positively charged. An atom that gains electrons becomes
negatively charged. The buildup of electric charge (either positive
or negative) on an object is called static electricity. (The word
static means “not moving.”)
Static electricity is different from current electricity in that
it does not flow continuously. In current
electricity, electrons move from one atom to the next
creating a flow or current. In static electricity, the outer electrons
from one substance get free from their atoms and can attach to another
substance, thus giving the second substance a negative charge. Electrons
can get free when two items rub together—like your shoes rubbing
across the rug.
Static electricity is the imbalance of positive and negative
charges. Two things with opposite charges will pull towards
each other. In the Zapped! Activities for this section, you will
learn more about what happens when static electricity builds up.
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