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Weather Library > Static Electricity at Home

Experiment with 'Mini-Lightning' inside your house

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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Anyone can create simple electrostatic spark discharges at home. The human body can generate and carry tens of thousands of volts, and produce sparks identical to lightning, only smaller.

Doorknob Discharges

This is the familiar method of creating sparks by sliding your feet across a carpeted floor. For best results,
  • Wear clean, dry socks.
  • Nylon carpeting works better.
  • Walk normally, lightly 'scuffing' your feet as you go. Don't slide your feet- this often causes discharges from your feet to the floor, leaving little or no energy left for sparks.
  • Hold a metal object without any points or sharp edges (sharp points and edges slowly 'drain' the charge and prevent a big discharge). The sparks tend to be longer in the case of metal-to-metal than they are if they jump from skin-to-metal. Using a metal object also reduces the sensation of the discharge in your fingers.
  • Hold the metal object or your finger close to a well-grounded terminal such as a screw on a light switch cover, a pull-chain on a ceiling fan, etc.. Slowly move the object or your finger towards the terminal until a spark jumps.
  • DON'T TOUCH ELECTRONIC DEVICES. Stereo systems, TVs, VCRs, watches, clocks, computers, phones, etc. can be permanently damaged by even a tiny spark. Electronic chips contain delicate, microscopic circuitry that is easily destroyed by electrostatic discharges.

Blanket Lightning

Visit the detailed instructions on how to create these fascinating dendritic sparks.

The Fluorescent Phenomenon

Light up a fluorescent bulb with static electricity. See these detailed directions.

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