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Sticky Tape Teaser

In this brainteaser, students discover that sticky tape can pick up electrons as well as dirt, dust, and hair!

Electrons tend to move around, so there are usually free electrons moving around the surface of most objects, including tables. When you peel sticky tape off a surface like a table, it takes some electrons with it making it negatively charged.

In the first part of the activity, both tape A (with tape C taped on it) and tape B are peeled off the table, collecting electrons from the table. When brought together, they repel each other since they're both negatively charged.

In the second part of the activity, tape C is peeled off of tape A, collecting electrons from it. This leaves tape A positively charged, which attracts both the negatively charged tapes B and C.

Remember: opposite charges attract and like charges repel.

Objectives

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

Materials

  • Per student:
    3 pieces of frosted sticky tape (10 cm each)
    a pen
    smooth, flat surface (like a clean table)

Key Questions

  • What happens when you move the pieces of tape toward each other?
  • Free electrons are usually moving around the surface of most objects. What did the tape “pick up” from the table?
  • What happens when like charges move near each other? What happens when like opposites move near each other?
  • How did tape A "switch" charges?
  • In the first part, what were the charges of each piece of tape? Why?
  • In the second part, what were the charges of each piece of tape? Why?

What To Do

  1. Tear three pieces of tape from the roll, each about 4 cm long.
  2. For each of the three pieces of tape, fold over a little bit of the end to create a little tab.
  3. This will enable you to grab the piece of tape without it sticking to your fingers or the table.

  1. Stick two of the pieces of tape flat down on the table (sticky side down), and make sure they’re smooth and flat against the table. Label the first piece of tape “A” and the second piece of tape “B”.
  2. Stick the last piece of tape on top of tape A and label it “C”.
  3. Peel tape B and tape A off the table slowly (tape C should come off along with tape A since it’s stuck on top of it).
  4. Slowly peel tape C off tape A.
  5. Slowly move A toward B and observe what happens. Record the results.
  6. Slowly move tape C toward A and B in turn, observe what happens. Record the results.

Teacher Tip: For primary groups, this activity may work better as a demonstration.

Extensions

  • With your partner, draw the charges on each piece of tape in both Part 1 and 2.