Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity


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Worked example 1: Tribo-electric charging

If you move twice as far away, the strength of the field decreases to one-fourth, and if you move three times as far away, the field decreases to one-ninth. Because protons are generally confined to the nuclei imbedded inside atoms, they are not nearly as free to move as are electrons.

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Therefore, when we talk about electric charge, we nearly always mean a surplus or deficit of electrons. When an imbalance of charges exists, and electrons are able to flow, an electric current is created. A localized and persistent deficit or surplus of electrons in an object causes static electricity. Current can take the form a sudden discharge of static electricity such as a lightning bolt or the spark between your finger and a grounded light switch plate; the steady flow of direct current DC from a battery or solar cell; or an oscillating current such as that from an alternating-current AC generator, a radio transmitter, or an audio amplifier.

We are usually unaware of electric charge because most objects contain equal amounts of positive and negative charge that effectively neutralize each other, according to Michael Dubson, a professor of physics at the University of Colorado Boulder. It is generally believed that the net charge of the universe is neutral. Positive and negative values of charge were originally assigned by the American statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin , who started studying electricity in Until then, most people thought that electrical effects were the result of mixing of two different electrical fluids, one positive and one negative.

However, Franklin became convinced that there was only one single electric fluid and that objects could have excess or deficiency of this fluid. Therefore, according to the University of Arizona , he invented the terms positive and negative to designate an excess or deficiency, respectively. The unit for measuring electric charge is the coulomb C , named after Charles-Augustin Coulomb , an 18th-century French physicist.

Coulomb developed the law that says "like charges repel; unlike charges attract. The Coulomb force is one of the two fundamental forces that is noticeable on a macroscopic scale, the other being gravity. However, the electrical force is much, much stronger than gravity. The repulsive Coulomb force between two protons due to their charge is 4. This is true at any distance, since the distance cancels out on both sides of the equation.

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When you rub your feet against the carpet, negative charge is transferred to you from the carpet. The carpet will then become positively charged by the same amount. Another example is to take two neutral objects such as a plastic ruler and a cotton cloth handkerchief. To begin, the two objects are neutral i. This is just to illustrate the balance and changes that occur, not the actual location of the positive and negative charges.

The charges are spread throughout the material and the real change happens by increasing or decreasing electrons on the surface of the materials. Now, if the cotton cloth is used to rub the ruler, negative charge is transferred from the cloth to the ruler. The ruler is now negatively charged i.

If you count up all the positive and negative charges at the beginning and the end, there are still the same amount, i. If you have a cotton cloth and a silk cloth and you rub them together, which becomes negatively charged? There are two materials provided and they will be rubbed together.

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This means we are dealing with the interaction between the materials. The question is related to the charge on the materials which we can assume were neutral to begin with.

This means that we are dealing electrostatics and the interaction of materials leading to the materials becoming charged is tribo-electric charging. Locate the materials in the tribo-electric series. The key thing is to know which is more positive and more negative in the series. Silk falls above cotton in our table making it more positive in the series.

We know that when two materials are rubbed the more negative one in the series gains electrons and the more positive one loses electrons. This means that silk will lose electrons and cotton will gain electrons. A material becomes negatively charged when it has an excess of electrons, thus the cotton, which gains electrons, becomes negatively charged.

Note that in this example the numbers are made up to be easy to calculate.


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In the real world only a tiny fraction of the charges would move from one object to the other, but the total charge would still be conserved. Simulation: VPgsz.

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The process of materials becoming charged when they come into contact with other materials is known as tribo-electric charging. Materials can be arranged in a tribo-electric series according to the likelihood of them gaining or losing electrons.


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  • If a material has equal numbers of positive and negative charges we describe it as being neutral not favouring positive or negative overall charge. If a neutral material loses electrons it becomes electron deficient and has an overall positive charge. If a neutral material gains electrons it has excess electrons and has an overall negative charge.

    For this reason we describe the ordering of materials in the tribo-electric series as more positive or more negative depending on whether they are more likely to lose or gain electrons. This tribo-electric series can allow us to determine whether one material is likely to become charged from another material. Materials from the more positive end of the series are more likely to lose electrons than those from the more negative end.

    Electric Charge Definition

    So when two materials are chosen and rubbed together the one that is more positive in the series will lose electrons and the one that is more negative in the series will gain electrons. For example, amber is more negative than wool and so if a piece of wool is rubbed against a piece of amber then the amber will become negatively charged.


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    The force exerted by non-moving static charges on each other is called the electrostatic force. The electrostatic force between:. The closer together the charges are, the stronger the electrostatic force between them. The ancient Greeks observed that if you rubbed a piece of amber, you could use it to pick up bits of straw. Two charged metal spheres hang from strings and are free to move as shown in the picture below. The right hand sphere is positively charged. The charge on the left hand sphere is unknown.

    Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity
    Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity
    Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity
    Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity
    Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity
    Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity
    Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity
    Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity
    Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity Taking Charge: An Introduction to Electricity

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