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FEATURE ARTICLE

What Creates Static Electricity?

Traditionally considered a physics problem, the answer is beginning to emerge from chemistry and other sciences

Meurig W. Williams

2012-07WilliamsF5.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageEveryone knows how to create a static shock—just drag your feet across the carpet before touching something. But what actually causes that shock to form is amazingly still unknown. Is it electrons, ions, or something else? The answer isn’t merely academic—electrostatic charges are central in laser printers. They can cause big problems for the space program, and can increase the impact of dust storms. Understanding static charges (also called contact charging, or triboelectricity) has traditionally been considered a physics problem, but the author argues that chemistry and other sciences are required to really get what’s going on at these surfaces. The author has researched three different  mechanisms which have been demonstrated to create triboelectric charging.


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