Students experiment with different materials to find the best combination for creating static charge.

Some atoms hold on to their electrons more tightly than others do. The triboelectric series is a list that ranks materials based on their tendency to hold on to or give away their electrons.

When a material gives up electrons it becomes positively charged. Therefore, if a material is more apt to give up electrons when in contact with another material, it is more positive in the triboelectric series. When a material gains electrons it becomes nevatively charged. Therefore, if a material is more apt to "capture" electrons when in contact with another material, it is more negative in the triboelectric series.

To get a really good static charge, you should combine a very positive material in the triboelectric series with a very negative material in the triboelectric series.

### Objectives

• Explain how static charge causes materials to attract or repel each other.

### Materials

• Per Class:
Various items displayed on a table (4–5 samples of each):

balloons
plastic rulers
plastic spoons
paper plates
wool scarf
silk scarf
rubber-soled shoes
carpet
socks
sweater
record
comb
cereal
salt
hula hoop
sugar
pepper
ripped-up paper
gelatin
styrofoam packing peanuts

• Per student:
science notebook
pencil/pen
table of the triboelectric series

### Key Questions

• Which combinations of materials create charge?
• Can you explain your results by looking at the ranking of your materials in the triboelectric series?
• Do any of the material combinations result in crackling?
• What is similar about the combinations that create charge? The combinations that do not create charge?

### What To Do

Preparation

1. Lay out a variety of materials on a table.
2. On the board, create a table with the materials you have chosen along the top of the table and repeat them down the side of the table. This will be used to record the students’ results. Alternatively, you can ask the students to reproduce the table in their notebooks to record the results.

Exploration

1. In teams of two, one of the team members comes to the table and chooses two materials to bring back to their desk.
2. Rub the two materials together. Do they exhibit static cling?
3. In your table, record “Yes” for creating a charge and “No” for not creating a charge.
4. Bring back the samples to the table and choose another pair.
5. Continue rubbing different combinations of materials together to see which ones create charge.
6. Record the results as a class on the board.

​Teacher Tip:
For primary students who may not be confident with their writing skills, the following variation can be used to create an engaging activity. Instead of having each pair of students record their findings on paper, assign a “yes” side and “no” side to the classroom. Then, for each round of testing materials for static charge, have each pair move to the appropriate side of the classroom. Record the group’s answers on the blackboard and then review them as a class.

### Extensions

• Go on a static electricity hunt! Leave the classroom and expand your search area for material combinations that create static charge around your school, outside, at home etc.
• Take your best combination, charge it up, turn the lights off and see if you can get a spark!
• At home, try taking off an acrylic or polar fleece sweater in the dark. Can you see any sparks?

Survivors

Artist: Jeff Kulak

Jeff is a senior graphic designer at Science World. His illustration work has been published in the Walrus, The National Post, Reader’s Digest and Chickadee Magazine. He loves to make music, ride bikes, and spend time in the forest.

Egg BB

Artist: Jeff Kulak

Jeff is a senior graphic designer at Science World. His illustration work has been published in the Walrus, The National Post, Reader’s Digest and Chickadee Magazine. He loves to make music, ride bikes, and spend time in the forest.

Comet Crisp

Artist: Jeff Kulak

Jeff is a senior graphic designer at Science World. His illustration work has been published in the Walrus, The National Post, Reader’s Digest and Chickadee Magazine. He loves to make music, ride bikes, and spend time in the forest.

T-Rex and Baby

Artist: Michelle Yong

Michelle is a designer with a focus on creating joyful digital experiences! She enjoys exploring the potential forms that an idea can express itself in and helping then take shape.

Buddy the T-Rex

Artist: Michelle Yong

Michelle is a designer with a focus on creating joyful digital experiences! She enjoys exploring the potential forms that an idea can express itself in and helping then take shape.

Geodessy

Artist: Michelle Yong

Michelle is a designer with a focus on creating joyful digital experiences! She enjoys exploring the potential forms that an idea can express itself in and helping then take shape.

Science Buddies

Artist: Ty Dale

From Canada, Ty was born in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1993. From his chaotic workspace he draws in several different illustrative styles with thick outlines, bold colours and quirky-child like drawings. Ty distils the world around him into its basic geometry, prompting us to look at the mundane in a different way.

Western Dinosaur

Artist: Ty Dale

From Canada, Ty was born in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1993. From his chaotic workspace he draws in several different illustrative styles with thick outlines, bold colours and quirky-child like drawings. Ty distils the world around him into its basic geometry, prompting us to look at the mundane in a different way.