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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the concept of electric charge
  • Explain qualitatively the force electric charge creates

You are certainly familiar with electronic devices that you activate with the click of a switch, from computers to cell phones to television. And you have certainly seen electricity in a flash of lightning during a heavy thunderstorm. But you have also most likely experienced electrical effects in other ways, maybe without realizing that an electric force was involved. Let’s take a look at some of these activities and see what we can learn from them about electric charges and forces.


You have probably experienced the phenomenon of static electricity    : When you first take clothes out of a dryer, many (not all) of them tend to stick together; for some fabrics, they can be very difficult to separate. Another example occurs if you take a woolen sweater off quickly—you can feel (and hear) the static electricity pulling on your clothes, and perhaps even your hair. If you comb your hair on a dry day and then put the comb close to a thin stream of water coming out of a faucet, you will find that the water stream bends toward (is attracted to) the comb ( [link] ).

A photograph of a stream of water bending sideways as it is attracted to a comb.
An electrically charged comb attracts a stream of water from a distance. Note that the water is not touching the comb. (credit: Jane Whitney)

Suppose you bring the comb close to some small strips of paper; the strips of paper are attracted to the comb and even cling to it ( [link] ). In the kitchen, quickly pull a length of plastic cling wrap off the roll; it will tend to cling to most any nonmetallic material (such as plastic, glass, or food). If you rub a balloon on a wall for a few seconds, it will stick to the wall. Probably the most annoying effect of static electricity is getting shocked by a doorknob (or a friend) after shuffling your feet on some types of carpeting.

A photograph of thin strips of paper stuck to a plastic comb.
After being used to comb hair, this comb attracts small strips of paper from a distance, without physical contact. Investigation of this behavior helped lead to the concept of the electric force.

Many of these phenomena have been known for centuries. The ancient Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus (624–546 BCE) recorded that when amber (a hard, translucent, fossilized resin from extinct trees) was vigorously rubbed with a piece of fur, a force was created that caused the fur and the amber to be attracted to each other ( [link] ). Additionally, he found that the rubbed amber would not only attract the fur, and the fur attract the amber, but they both could affect other (nonmetallic) objects, even if not in contact with those objects ( [link] ).

A photograph of a piece of gold-colored amber from Malaysia that has been rubbed and polished to a smooth, rounded shape.
Borneo amber is mined in Sabah, Malaysia, from shale-sandstone-mudstone veins. When a piece of amber is rubbed with a piece of fur, the amber gains more electrons, giving it a net negative charge. At the same time, the fur, having lost electrons, becomes positively charged. (credit: “Sebakoamber”/Wikimedia Commons)
Figure a shows a piece of amber and a piece of cloth. The amber has two negative charges and two positive charges, while the cloth has three of each. In figure B, two arrows are shown going through the amber, and another two arrows coming out of the amber. In figure C, the amber now has two positive charges and four negative charges, while the cloth has three positive charges and only one remaining negative charge.
When materials are rubbed together, charges can be separated, particularly if one material has a greater affinity for electrons than another. (a) Both the amber and cloth are originally neutral, with equal positive and negative charges. Only a tiny fraction of the charges are involved, and only a few of them are shown here. (b) When rubbed together, some negative charge is transferred to the amber, leaving the cloth with a net positive charge. (c) When separated, the amber and cloth now have net charges, but the absolute value of the net positive and negative charges will be equal.

Questions & Answers

Maxwell's stress tensor is
Ami Reply
if 6.0×10^13 electrons are placed on a metal sphere of charge 9.0micro Coulombs, what is the net charge on the sphere
Rita Reply
18.51micro Coulombs
Is it possible to find the magnetic field of a circular loop at the centre by using ampere's law?
Rb Reply
Is it possible to find the magnetic field of a circular loop at it's centre?
Rb Reply
The density of a gas of relative molecular mass 28 at a certain temperature is 0.90 K kgmcube.The root mean square speed of the gas molecules at that temperature is 602ms.Assuming that the rate of diffusion of a gas in inversely proportional to the square root of its density,calculate the density of
Gifty Reply
A hot liquid at 80degree Celsius is added to 600g of the same liquid originally at 10 degree Celsius. when the mixture reaches 30 degree Celsius, what will be the total mass of the liquid?
what is electrostatics
Yakub Reply
Study of charges which are at rest
Explain Kinematics
Glory Reply
Two equal positive charges are repelling each other. The force on the charge on the left is 3.0 Newtons. Using your notes on Coulomb's law, and the forces acting on each of the charges, what is the force on the charge on the right?
Nya Reply
Using the same two positive charges, the left positive charge is increased so that its charge is 4 times LARGER than the charge on the right. Using your notes on Coulomb's law and changes to the charge, once the charge is increased, what is the new force of repulsion between the two positive charges?
A mass 'm' is attached to a spring oscillates every 5 second. If the mass is increased by a 5 kg, the period increases by 3 second. Find its initial mass 'm'
Md Reply
a hot water tank containing 50,000g of water is heated by an electric immersion heater rated at 3kilowatt,240volt, calculate the current
Samuel Reply
what is charge
Aamir Reply
product of current and time
Why always amber gain electrons and fur loose electrons? Why the opposite doesn't happen?
Mohammed Reply
A closely wound search coil has an area of 4cm^2,1000 turns and a resistance of 40ohm. It is connected to a ballistic galvanometer whose resistance is 24 ohm. When coil is rotated from a position parallel to uniform magnetic field to one perpendicular to field,the galvanometer indicates a charge
Palak Reply
Using Kirchhoff's rules, when choosing your loops, can you choose a loop that doesn't have a voltage?
Michael Reply
how was the check your understand 12.7 solved?
Bysteria Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 2. OpenStax CNX. Oct 06, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12074/1.3
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