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Make Cereal Dance Using Static Electricity

Static electricity is everywhere, in wild hair that sticks to brushes and electric shocks when you touch a doorknob. It even manifests as lightning.

To understand it, we look to the tiny molecules that make up you, me and almost everything around us: atoms. An atom has a number of negatively charged electrons orbiting its nucleus. Everything is fine when all surrounding atoms have the same number of electrons. But when atoms rub up against each other, they often steal electrons, creating a negative charge.

Like magnets, these tiny particles are attracted to the opposite — positive goes with negative. But when you keep adding more and more negative electrons, they want to stay as far away from you as possible. That is why your hair sticks out when you rub a balloon against your hair. All the hairs are trying to stay as far away from each other as possible!

As more and more electrons build up, electricity builds up. We usually think of electricity flowing in a current, but when it builds up it is still, or static. If you touch something else like a doorknob, all that static electricity releases in a spark to the metal. We feel the shock and can even see the spark when it is dark enough.

We can put this to practice — and make our food dance! You just need to put crispy rice cereal on a flat surface. Suspend a piece of acrylic or plastic over the cereal with wood. We found about a little less than 1 inch worked well. Rub the acrylic with a piece of clothing — wool is excellent. Now watch your cereal dance!

What’s going on? Rubbing the wool on the acrylic is stealing electrons from the acrylic, which attracts the cereal to the acrylic.


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