02 January 2008

“It's Got To Do With Electrons And Atomic Fields, Baby. You Just Wouldn't Understand”

Whenever my cozy pet hog crawls under the covers when its sleepytime she usually turns into Blanka for a few seconds as static electricity lights up my bed like a tinderbox. Something about dog vs. Mexican wool blanket sends physics for a loop. It always reminds me of those stupid sci-fi electro-globes they sell at Spencer Gifts.

I guess a dude named Michael Faraday was the first to recognise this back in 1832. Guy Farady proved that the electricity induced from a magnet, voltaic electricity produced by a battery, and static electricity were all the same.

Static electricity is caused when certain materials are rubbed against each other, like wool on plastic or the soles of shoes on carpet. The process causes electrons to be pulled from the surface of one material and relocated on the surface of the other material.

A static shock occurs when the surface of the second material, negatively charged with electrons, touches a positively-charged conductor.

So static electricity is a build up of electric charges on two objects that have become separated from each other.

Try walking around your office for a while and rub your feet on that wonderful corporate carpet and then touch a metal doorknob. Enjoy!

So anyway, this morning as I was taking off my 90% cashmere topcoat whilst listening to my iPod I felt the sting of the famed triboelectric effect. There was a quick static buzz and a few pops and zaps in my ears. Kinda felt like a small firecracker going off in my right ear. Good times!

Oh, then I found this:

“When different materials are brought together and then separated, an accumulation of electric charge can occur which leaves one material positively charged while the other becomes negatively charged.

The mild shock that you receive when touching a grounded object after walking on carpet is an example of excess electrical charge accumulating in your body from frictional charging between your shoes and the carpet.

The resulting charge build-up within your body can generate a strong electrical discharge.

Although experimenting with static electricity may be fun, similar sparks create
severe hazards in those industries dealing with flammable substances, where a small electrical spark may ignite explosive mixtures with devastating consequences. ”

This is why gas stations always tell you not to use your cell phone while you're filling up and why you shouldn't get in and out of the car too many times or whatever. It's rare that anything will happen but it has.

You also shouldn't turn your gas on and leave your house for a few hours and then come back and unlock your door because the tiny friction spark from your key going into the lock may very well send your house up the flagpole.

Same goes for biting into a Wint-O-Green Life Saver in the dark. Actually, all hard sugar-based candies emit some degree of light when you bite them, but most of the time, that light is very faint. This effect is called triboluminescence, which is similar to the electrical charge build-up that produces lightning, only, uh, much less grand. Triboluminescence is the emission of light resulting from something being smashed or torn. When you rip a piece of tape off the roll, it will produce a slight glow for the same reason. Got it?

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