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Electro-Static Experiments

By Frederick Von Lichtenow

The attractive and repulsive forces peculiar to Static Electricity enable the person experimenting in this field to perform "stunts" which he could not possibly produce with the aid of any other kind of electricity. How ever insignificant these may appear to the uninitiated, for the true experimenter they carry a deep meaning back of them. Experimenting in Static Electricity is playing with the electricity of the earth in micro form. This fact alone throws a vast amount of fascination into this odd and yet so natural branch of electrical science.

Static Electricity evidences itself in probably more ways and certainly requires less apparatus for its production and experimental conduction than any other form of experimental electricity. A rod of glass and a piece of silk or a sheet of hard rubber and a piece of fur, together with some bits of tissue paper, are sufficient apparatus for the practical study of its elementary principles.

A small static machine, however, such as the "Electro" Wimshurst type is required for the successful reproduction of the following experiments, which will help the novice in grasping the principles underlying them.

Experiment No. 1 - ("Opposing" chains).
Here is a simple and yet quite pronounced way of showing the repulsive effect on like charged bodies. Two very light and equally long brass chains, such as are usually found around static instruments for connection purposes, are suspended side by side by their respective ends as shown in Fig. 1. They must hang well off the table and under just enough tension to form only a slight downward curve. The electrodes of the machine are then set beyond sparking distance when with a few turns of the crank handle the chains will be caused to press sideways, each strongly repelling the other, in which position they will remain for some time after the machine has been stopt, gradually and slowly falling back into normal position with the leaking away of the static charge.

If the discharge balls are brought within sparking distance, so that sparks may pass at certain intervals, the chains will set up a rhythmic motion—separating upon being charged, meeting again upon neutralization, as long as the plates are rotated.

Experiment No. 2. - (Static "Ball Pendulum").
Figure two shows the apparatus needed in this experiment, which clearly illustrates the principle of alternate attraction and neutralization, helped along by the weight of the ball in gathering momentum, which in the end effects the pendulum motion. This latter, naturally, continues as long as the machine is working. Both balls consist of solid brass and should be kept in a well polished condition. The smaller, swinging ball, 1/2 inch in diameter, is suspended by a piece of very thin copper wire, 3 1/2 or 4 inches long, having a loop on its upper end to insure the necessary free movement. The larger one, measuring 1 inch in diameter is stationary, while the whole is supported upon insulating stands. No sparks must occur across the static machine gap.

Experiment No. 3. - (Static "Vibrator").
Working under the same principle as that involved in experiment No. 2, the static vibrator, as I will call it, forms another highly interesting piece of apparatus. The smaller ball is here replaced by a short piece of very fine, perfectly straight copper wire, about 2 1/2" long, held rigid in a clip as indicated in Fig. 3. The free end of this horizontally placed wire must reach nearly across the entire width of the brass ball, without however touching it in the least, and center upon it. Both should be separated by a gap of from 1/4 to 1/2 inch, this depending entirely on the size and condition of the static machine employed. With the discharge rods set far apart and machine put to work, the wire will immediatelv be attracted to the ball, since both are oppositely charged, as quickly released under the neutralizing spark, attracted again under the new charge and so on, which, assisted by the springy element existing in it, will cause it to vibrate at an incredible speed.

Experiment No. 4.—("Cushioning" effect of spark).
This experiment not only affords a spectacular way of lighting Geissler tubes and causing them to swing at the same time, but it offers a good chance, for the study of the "cushioning" effect of the static spark.

Two medium sized Geissler tubes of equal length (of the rarefied gas and not the heavy liquid type) are suspended a couple of inches or so apart from insulating stands connected to the respective poles of the static machine (Fig. 4).

With the passage of the electric charge they will at once approach each other, being attracted as a consequence of their opposite polarity, when upon meeting by their lower globes the spark discharge will take place thru their entire lengths, strongly lighting them up for the moment. Being released under the effect of the neutralizing spark, they fall hack into their former positions only to he attracted to one another again with the approach of the new charge (Fig. 5). This in repetition causes a sort of swinging motion on the part of the tubes. which in the end one would think at least, must lead to their striking hard together; but they never do. Every titne they meet, the resulting spark acts as if it were a cushion placed between them: in fact, they sometimes seem to cling together for the instant, while the discharge is taking place, which on the other hand forces them always to a fresh start, in this way limiting the momentum gained by the tubes on each trip. They will perform in this manner as long as the machine is in action, the terminals of which are to be separated beyond their spark limit.

On working out these static "stunts" I had in mind not only the beginner, but the less capitalized experimenter who, unable to buy the more expensive auxiliary apparatus, may not be satisfied with the average run of experiments belonging in the tissue paper - tin foil - pithball class.

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