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Friday, January 27, 2012

Science Mom: Static Tinsel Levitating Orb

I have decided to start doing science experiments with my daughter. She loves learning and doing crafts, so I knew they were going to be a huge hit. I searched online for easy experiments and came across Science Bob. This is a great site for basic experiments to do with kids. We decided to try the Static Tinsel Levitating Orb experiment.

Supplies
1-inch-wide PVC pipe about 24 inches long: You can also use a regular balloon if you do not have PVC pipe. I got my PVC pipe at Lowe's, which will cut your pipe for free.

Mylar tinsel for Christmas trees: There are many types of tinsel. You should look for the thinnest and narrowest possible. For the tinsel I used, I was just lucky and found it in one of my Christmas presents. But Science Bob also sells tinsel on its website.
A head of clean, dry hair
Scissors
Tape (optional)

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Lay out six strings of tinsel, and tie one side of the tinsel into a knot. I found that if I took three strings and taped the ends together, and did the same with the other three strings, it was easier to tie the knot.


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Repeat, and tie a knot on the other end of the tinsel, making an orb. Cut off any excess string on both ends.


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Take your PVC pipe, and charge it up by rubbing it on the back of your hair or your child's. Virginia was not sure what I was doing to her. I told her that the PVC pipe is her magic wand.


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By rubbing it in your hair, you are making static electricity.


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Then take your PVC pipe, and drop the tinsel orb high above it. The orb should repel when it gets near the pipe. If it doesn't repel, then your tinsel is too thick. For me, I noticed that sometimes the orb would stick to my pipe. But if I dropped the orb high above the pipe, I got the best results. Virginia had a blast doing it.

How Does It Work?
It is all about static charges. Similar static charges repel each other. When you rub the pipe in your hair, you give the pipe a negative static charge. The orb is attracted to the pipe at first because the orb has a positive charge. As soon as the orb touches the pipe, it picks up a negative charge. Since the pipe is negative, and the tinsel orb is now negative, they repel each other, and the orb levitates! The orb will also take on more of a ball appearance when charged, since all the tinsel strands are repelling each other. Did you notice the orb is attracted to other objects around you — including you? That is because most objects (including you) have a positive charge. — Science Bob

Make It an Experiment!
The project above is a demonstration. To make it a true experiment, you can try to answer these questions:
  1. Does the number of Mylar strands affect how well the orb levitates?
  2. Do different materials (hair, fur, and wool) build up better static charges?
  3. How long does the static charge last, and how can you make it last longer?
  4. Do different widths of pipe affect the floating ability of the orb?
— Science Bob

Post submitted by Kathy from The Mommies Network's Content Team

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