Static electricity is not working as expected

A new study published June 23 in the journal Science challenges our knowledge of static electricity, says Popular Science. While we thought that static electricity arises from an exchange of charged particles (ions), it appears that a real transfer of matter is taking place.

“On first thought that the friction between two non-metallic materials creates a positive charge on one and a negative charge on the other, in a uniform mannerrecalls ABC Science.

To go further, a research team from Northwestern University in Chicago (USA) led by Bartosz Grzybowski (a physical chemist) had the idea of ​​using contact electrification (the name scientists used for static electricity) from insulating materials (such as polycarbonates and other polymers), semiconductor materials ( silicone) and conductive materials (aluminum), reports Wired.

Then using a Kelvin probe microscope (a non-contact variant of the atomic force microscope that can locate the smallest irregularities on a surface) to analyze the exchanges that take place at different points on the surface of objects.

They saw it, according to PhysOrg magazine: “what they describe as a patchwork of positively and negatively charged tufts lying on the surface of the object under study“. According to the research team, it’s these “clumps” that are transmitted between objects that are touching.

Tiny scraps of balloons, for example, when rubbed on children’s hair, stick and leave a negative balance on the balloon’s electrical patchwork. This explains the attraction between the ball and other objects, such as a sweater or a wall.»

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Daniel Lacks, a chemical engineer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, told Science News magazine:The study conclusively showed that transmission of matter was indeed taking place. […] But we don’t know if it’s the main source of electric charge. It might work in combination with something else“.

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