A discharge, a slap, a chestnut, a shock… By setting fire to a colleague, putting on a piece of clothing or grabbing an object. A funny little sensation that asks: Can there really be electricity in the air? Yes, a publication by the University of Montreal very clearly popularized it. “In question”: static electricity, which is omnipresent.
Static electricity, what is that again?
All matter is made up of atoms, which are made up of positive and negative electrical particles – protons and electrons – and neutrons
“Static electricity is generated by the friction of two surfaces, resulting in a transfer of electrons. And some materials have a greater tendency to lose electrons, such as synthetic fabrics, wool or glasswhile others attract them, like ebonite or rubber,” recalls article author Martin Lasalle.
This electricity is everywhere because all matter is made up of atoms, which are made up of positive and negative electrical particles – protons and electrons – and neutrons, which are neutral.
“Without realizing it, our own body is in a constant electrostatic imbalance: depending on the elements with which we come into contact, we lose or gain dozens, even hundreds of electrons at every moment,” continues Andrea Bianchi, professor at the Physics Institute of the University of Montréal.
Like charges repel each other, opposite charges attract each other
Practical experimentation. Let’s take the case of a motorist who was hit by grabbing the handle while getting out of his vehicle. What’s going on there?
It’s that… The movement of the buttocks generated on the seat of the vehicle a frictiont “, which rids your body of a certain amount of electrons. These negative particles then pass through the seat towards the outside of the vehicle while sticking to it. Why outwards? Because all electrons are negatively charged, they tend to separate from each other moving away to the phenomenon of repulsion – as charges repel while opposite charges attract, so the vehicle becomes overloaded with electrons while you become overloaded with positive ions (protons)”.
And so… At the moment the handle is touched, it “becomes a vector for the transfer of excess electrons. For a short time, the electricity is no longer…static : The following small electrical discharge corresponds to the passage of electrons from the car to your positively charged body. This small shock corresponds to a discharge of 20 to 30 kilovolts, which is a rather small amount of energy,” the researcher replies.
Why does this happen more often in winter?
Dry winter air insulates better
In winter, the discharges seem to be more frequent and stronger, “because in winter the air is drier, which slows electron transfer‘ explains the researcher. “Unlike in summer, where the humid air facilitates the transfer of electrons, even in small amounts. Dry winter air is a better insulator, meaning it isolates more electrons, which must accumulate in larger quantities to cross the insulating barrier. This explains why the shocks in winter are stronger”.