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How To Make A Simple Meter To Measure Static Electricity

Print this page for your junior mad scientist to build

You are all familiar with static electricity. It is that little zap you get if you touch a piece of metal after walking across a carpet in the winter. Or if you throw your sweaters in the dryer, but forget to throw in that little sheet of white stuff, chances are when your clothes are dry and you take them out, you'll see and hear a lot of static electricity.

It is fairly easy to make a small meter to measure static electricity. All you need are a few common materials found in every household. This is a good science project for students in any grade, but younger students should be supervised, as the use of a scissors and straight pin are required, and some of the materials will have sharp edges after being cut with the scissors.

You Need

  • A small box or other container to house the detector (see the diagrams below). It should be non-conductive, ie, something made out of metal won't do. Cardboard is best,
  • An old pie pan, or something similar made from tin foil. You want something that is fairly rigid, but still easy to work with and cut,
  • Some regular tin foil, the thin stuff that comes in rolls,
  • A straight pin,
  • Some glue, a pair of scissors, a pen or pencil, and a ruler.

How To Build It

Measure the Width, Height, and Depth of your box or container, and write the measurements in the diagram below.

Cut the front out of your container, and cut along the top left corner:

Use the measurements of your box to measure and cut a piece of thick tin foil from the pie plate as follows:

Now fold the tin foil in half about the slot cut in the middle as shown. Then unfold it again. This will leave a crease in the foil, which we will need later:

Fold the foil up and down as shown, each fold being a 90 degree right angle:

You should end up with a shape something like a set of stairs, but with hole cut in one step. Take the "stairs" and put it in the box like shown below. If you make it correctly, part will stick out the top; fold this part over and glue it down. You may need to glue down the bottom "step" as well:

Cut a piece of tin foil a little shorter than the height of your box (H), and roll it around the pen or pencil. It should be wide enough that it rolls around the pencil 2 or 3 times:

Carefully slide the foil tube a little more than half way off the pencil. Stick the straight pin through the foil tube, being careful not to damage the tube. Do not stick the pin through the exact center of the tube, rather put it a little bit to one side. This is so it will hang straight up and down. Then carefully take the tube off the pencil:

Finally, place the tube with the pin through it in the box arrangement you made above. The pin should rest in the crease in the foil stand. Now you are finished!

If you are carrying a static charge, and you touch the piece of foil on the top of your detector, the tube will move. This is because the static charge will flow along the foil stand and through the pin to the foil tube, coating both. Since similar charges repel each other, the tube moves like below: