Wednesday’s Science Time program at the Stewart C. Meyer Harker Heights Public Library demonstrated how static electricity works using a balloon and salt and pepper.

Stewart C. Meyer Harker Heights Public Library clerk Heather Heilman leads the virtual Science Time program on Wednesday afternoons, and she always has something new and fun to bring to viewers. This week she had an easy experiment that demonstrated how static electricity works.

She defined static electricity as, “When you have an imbalance in the electrical charges in an object,” and explained that static electricity is caused by friction. She gave the example of walking across carpet and getting a little jolt when touching a doorknob, something that nearly everyone has experienced and can easily relate to.

There were only a few materials needed for the experiment which could easily be found around the home: Salt and pepper, a plate, and an inflated balloon (a comb can also be used if no balloon is available).

Heilman began by sprinkling a small amount of the salt and pepper onto the plate. She next rubbed the balloon on her hair, generating a small charge of static electricity (she said one could rub a cloth or blanket on the balloon, as well). She then held the balloon over the plate, close to the salt and pepper.

Heilman observed that the pepper began to move when the balloon passed near it. Rubbing the balloon against her hair again, she noted that the pepper jumped to the balloon, making an audible noise, and zoomed in the camera so that viewers could see the pepper that was now stuck to the balloon. “The salt is a little bit heavier than the pepper,” she said to explain why the salt stayed on the plate.

What happened is this: When Heilman rubbed the neutral balloon against her hair, electrons were transferred from her hair to the balloon, negatively charging the balloon. The static electricity then attracted the positively charged ends of the pepper particles to the negatively charged balloon. As Heilman stated, the salt stayed put because the pepper particles weighed less.

Heilman told viewers to try other items that the balloon might pick up around the house, or that the balloon itself might stick to (for instance, a wall), saying, “Play around with it, have some fun.”

She also previewed next week’s program, saying that she would be continuing the lesson on static electricity, perhaps using the balloon again, or maybe some PVC pipe. “There’s all kinds of different things that we can use to help demonstrate how static electricity works.”

Watch the video on the library’s Facebook page at

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