Balloons and electricity!

Balloons are great fun- you can play catch with them, have a water balloon fight on a hot summer day, use them as art, and more!

Did you know that you can use a balloon (or two) to safely learn about electricity? Here’s how.

  1. Blow up a couple balloons.
  2. Rub a balloon against your hair or a wool sweater (or wool scarf/hat/etc).
  3. Now try doing a couple things: see if you can raise your hair up using the balloon, and see if you can make the balloon stick to a wall.
Making static electricity with your hair and a balloon.
http://gradefourelectricity.wikispaces.com/Static+Electricity

 

Can you make your balloon stick to the wall? If not, try rubbing it against your hair or the wool object some more.

So what does all of this have to do with electricity?

Well, there are two types of electricity. There’s current electricity, which is what makes the lights in your house turn on when you flip a switch. There is also static electricity, which you’ve probably felt on a winter day when you get shocked after touching a metal object, like a doorknob.

In order to understand static electricity, first let’s look at a picture of an atom. All objects are made out of atoms, but they are too tiny for us to see.

An atom with electrons.
http://www.school-for-champions.com/science/atom.htm

The yellow circles are electrons, which have a negative charge. When you rub the balloon against your hair, some of the electrons move from your hair to the balloon, which means the balloon becomes negatively charged.
So just to review, static electricity  is created when there is an imbalance in the charges of two objects. When you touch that metal object in winter, you are getting a shock because all of those electrons are moving between you and the object at once and creating a (very, very) little lighting bolt!

Here are some more things to try with your balloons:

  1. Rub two balloons against your hair and try to make them touch while hanging from a string.
  2. Pick up a small piece of aluminum foil with a charged balloon.
  3. What else can you pick up (or not pick up)?

Looking for more to do to learn about electricity? Check out the web for fun experiments such as making a battery out of a lemon and making a pickle glow!

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