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Hair-raising news: Monday is National Static Electricity Day!

January 9, 2012 |  1:11 pm

It's National Static Electricity Day! Go find a Van de Graaff generator to touch!

Each year on Jan. 9th, the country — or at least a bunch of school kids — celebrates the wonders of the old balloon-sticking-to-the-wall trick, the hair-raising that takes place after we take off our winter hats, and the shock of electricity that we get from petting a cat after scooting across a carpeted floor in socks.

And if you think we are making the holiday up, we are not. National Static Electricity Day is listed on the Hallmark Channel's Ultimate Holiday site, which lists at least two holidays per day, so it is all very official.

(Monday is also, apparently, Play God Day. Tuesday brings National Bittersweet Chocolate Day and Peculiar People Day).

In honor of this very important Static Electricity Day, we thought we'd provide you with a little refresher on how exactly static electricity works.

As you may remember from a middle-school science class, all matter is made of atoms, which are in turn made up of positively charged protons, negatively charged electrons and neutrally charged neutrons.

Most of the time the protons and electrons are balanced, but sometimes a surface becomes imbalanced. For example, when you rub a balloon against a wall, the electrons from the wall transfer to the balloon, making the balloon a negatively charged surface while the wall is a positively charged surface. Because opposite charges attract, you can then stick the balloon on the wall.

That static shock that you may remember feeling after petting your dog occurs when your body has excess electrons that you may have gathered from rubbing your stocking feet along a carpet for example. When you pet your dog, the electrons jump from you to your neutrally charged dog, making a crackling noise and giving you a little shock.

As for the hair-raising stuff, we'll let the one and only Bill Nye the Science Guy explain that in the video below. Enjoy!



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— Deborah Netburn

Image: Laura Judson conducts an experiment in static electricity with a Van de Graaff generator in 2000. Credit: Handout