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Try this

Static electricity flea circus

Place about a dozen small paper punchings (the little circles from a paper hole punch) into a dry see-through resealable plastic bag about 10 to 20cm long. Different colours are best. Capture some air in the bag by putting your hand inside and opening out your fingers to make the bag bigger then remove your hand and seal the bag trapping as much air as possible - this needs a little practice! Don’t blow into the bag because this will fill it with moist air and prevent the ‘fleas’ from doing their acrobatics!

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Roll the sealed end around a few times to make the bag a little smaller and this will squeeze the air and cause the bag to bulge out - care not to burst it at the seal or you will have to start again! Holding it at the sealed end is best.

Now rub the bag vigorously on some furry cloth or a cuddly toy or fleecy scarf etc. to charge it up with static electricity. This might take a few attempts to find the best type of cloth to create the most static.

Hold the bag up in one hand and you may see the punchings stuck to the sides at various places and some may be stuck together. Try bringing your other hand near to the bag and see what happens to the punchings. After a little practice you can cause them to jump about as if they were alive, leaping from one side of the bag to the other and from bottom to top just like flea acrobats in a flea circus.

Try rubbing a ruler on some furry cloth and bring that near the bag. What else could you try?

After a while you will have to charge up the bag again by rubbing it. If you try this or make up your own experiments let us know what happens.

There are all sorts of other interesting static electricity experiments.

Try rubbing a plastic ruler with a wooly hat or scarf then bringing it near to a small piece of aluminium kitchen foil.

The foil lifts up and touches the ruler and may even be picked up by the ruler.

Try this in the dark in a silent room and you may hear a ‘click’ and see a tiny spark as the foil touches the ruler.

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Note: static electricity experiments don’t work very well on damp or humid days because the static electricity ‘leaks’ away through the moisture! Make sure the plastic rod or ruler is warmed up by rubbing and rub your hands on the wooly hat before you start - this dries off moisture!

Who discovered electricity?

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Static electricity experiments were first carried out by ancient Greek philosophers thousands of years ago before electrical gadgets were ever thought of.
The story goes that a philosopher had a rod of Amber resting on some fur and as he picked up the rod it attracted his long hair towards it. He repeated this a few times and soon found out that rubbing the amber rod on the fur increased the effect and that the rod could now attract feathers towards it.

This must have appeared to be a ‘magical’ effect when it was first observed and it may even have frightened people!

The picture above shows a plastic ruler which has been rubbed with a wooly hat being brought near to a feather.
The ‘fronds’ of the feather jump up towards the ruler as it comes near and then the feather lifts up and may jump onto the ruler if there is enough ‘static charge’.
 

Here is an interesting end to the story.
Amber was a much prized material used to make beautiful jewelry but Amber is not a Greek word! Amber was the name used by the Romans. The greek word for Amber is ‘Electrik’and that is how we got the word electricity.
 We call the type of electricity made by rubbing plastics and other materials with fur static electricity because it remains on the surface of a material for a while (stays still).
The other type of electricity we use in our homes to make the lights work etc. is called current electricity. It flows inside metal wires.

Amber is a beautiful orange/brow material. It is transparent and warm to the touch. It feels like plastic. It sometimes has tiny little insects and plants deep inside it.

What is Amber? Where does it come from and where is it found? How do the insects get inside it?

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amber rods

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