437 words, Boys Quest, November 2009 issue.

Static electricity and you

If you talk of bad days to Frank Clewer in Warrnambool City, Australia, you might get the shock of your life! On a September day, sparks flew from him! He left a trail of scorch marks and molten plastic wherever he went that day. He was waiting in the reception area in an office when everyone heard a sound like a firecracker from him.

Frank Clewer said, “Within five minutes, the carpet started to erupt.”

Burns, the size of a dime, were on the carpet where he stood!

The fire department evacuated the building and those around it. When Frank walked back to the car, he was in for a bigger shock.

“I actually scorched a piece of plastic I had on the floor of the car,” he said.

The fire department took away his jacket. They figured out that Frank had given off about 30,000 Volts of static electricity by simply walking around in his jacket and clothes!

Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki explains why it happened to put everyone’s mind at rest.

“This poor guy has built up static electricity thanks to an unfortunate combination of insulating clothes that he’s wearing, static, synthetic clothes, just walking along and he’s just building up this static charge everywhere,” he said.

Static electricity is a different electrical phenomenon.  It happens when the positive and negative charge within a material is not perfectly equal. Friction does not cause static electricity. For static electricity to appear, two unlike insulating materials should be in touch with each other and then separated. This can create an ‘electric field.’

Everyday we see this imbalance operating when we see our hair rise to a comb, or brushes attract lint. This electricity has voltage without current. The power of the static electricity is massive. A tiny spark of static is caused by about 1000 Volts. Doorknob or car door sparks are about 10,000 Volts! When you rub a balloon on your head, you will generate 10,000 Volts! To feel a shock, you need to have more than 3500 Volts in your body. Static electricity is another name for high voltage electricity.

Static electricity is actually common in nature (think lightening). It has many practical applications (think laser printer, photocopiers). Human body has many important uses of static electricity: the muscles that move in our body, the nerve impulses, and the energy molecule (ATP).

Without Static electricity, there would be no solids, liquids, or gas. The world would be atoms. The atoms would split into electrons and nuclei. There would be no chemistry or no living things.

 Man, was Frank Clewer lucky that static electricity carries no current!


ATP Adenosine Tri Phospate provides energy for muscles to contract or digest food.