Museum of Science and Industry

Cling to Me

Electric generators pull atoms apart and generate hundreds of thousands of volts of electricity. But rubbing your feet on the carpet while wearing socks can do the same thing! Make some static electricity and see what it can do.

What you'll need:

Hole punch
Styrofoam peanuts
Puffed rice cereal (such as Rice Krispies)
Various small items such as pepper, thread, pieces of tape, cup of water, paper clips
Charts (optional) (PDF)

What to do

This activity is done in stations. Set up the stations like this:
Station 1: hole punch and piece of paper
Station 2: Styrofoam peanuts
Station 3: Puffed rice cereal
Station 4: Various small items (this station should be last)

Choose a variable to test, either the size of the balloon or the number of times you rub the balloon on your hair. Blow up the balloon. You will use the same balloon at each station.

Station 1: Experiment with the balloon and pieces of paper punched out with the hole puncher. How can you make the paper attract the balloon? Note: Some hair products will prevent a balloon from being charged. If you are having trouble with this, use a fuzzy piece of cloth like fleece or felt, or rub the balloon on carpet.

Station 2: Experiment with the balloon and peanuts. How can you make the peanuts attract the balloon? How does the attraction of the peanuts compare to the paper?

Station 3: Experiment with the balloon and cereal. How can you make the cereal attract the balloon? ow does this attraction compare to the peanuts and paper?

Station 4: Select one of the items to test. Predict the outcome of the interaction between the balloon and that item. How does that attraction compare to the items at the other stations?

What's happening?

Materials develop static charges. This happens due to the transfer of electrons from one object to another. Everything has a tendency to either want to hold on to its electrons or give them away. This tendency is why we have static electricity. When two objects – such as your hair and the balloon – rub together, one loses some of its electrons to the other. This makes one object positively charged and the other object negatively charged. The opposites then are attracted to each other.  

The balloon is charged by rubbing it on your hair. When you put it near a neutral object (paper, Styrofoam or puffed rice cereal), the electrons in the object repel away from the balloon and the protons are attracted to the balloon. This movement of the electrons causes the neutral object to get a low positive charge. The negatively charged balloon is then attracted and will “stick” to the object.

Museum Hours
  • Daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
    Open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas
More Information

Museum Location
Museum of Science+Industry
5700 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60637
1 (773) 684-1414
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