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
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
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
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
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
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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