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Charge Up a Light Bulb with static electricity – electrical charges experiment

Various fluorescent light bulbs

Charge Up a Light Bulb experiment

In this experiment, we’ll make a fluorescent light bulb ‘go on’ – literally.

  1. Take the comb and light bulb into a dark closet.
  2. Take the comb and rub it thoroughly through your hair.  If you don’t have any hair, a wool shirt or sweater will work fine.
  3. Now hold the comb to the metal end of the light bulb while carefully watching the filament in the bulb.

How static electricity lights up the light bulb

Compact Fluorescent lamp

Pretty cool, huh?  When you rub the comb through your hair, the friction between your hair and the comb actually causes electrons to travel from your hair to the comb.  Your body (hair) becomes positively charged (because it has more protons than electrons) while the comb becomes negatively charged (it gained electrons from your hair).  The comb, in effect, becomes charged.  When you touch the comb to the end of the light bulb, the charged comb discharges into the light bulb causing the bulb to emit small pulses of light.

The fluorescent light bulb acts as an electrical circuit, allowing the electricity to discharge from the surface of the balloon into the light circuit. Inside the fluorescent bulb the electrons travel through the light tube they bump against mercury gas electrons. Eventually this causes the mercury gas electrons to release photons which is the source of the light.

Alternative electrical charges experiments

The same effect can be replicated with a LED light. You can also charge up enough static electricity to light a fluorescent or LED light by putting on a pair of socks and shuffling your feet across carpet or by rubbing a balloon on your head.

Charge Up a Light Bulb Experiment Supplies

Supplies: comb, light bulb

Image Credits

Compact Fluorescent lamp via Wikimedia Commons by Dmitry Makeev with usage type - Creative Commons License. April 15, 2019
Various fluorescent light bulbs via Wikimedia Commons by Christian Taube with usage type - Creative Commons License. Modified/cropped. April 9, 2005

Featured Image Credit

Various fluorescent light bulbs via Wikimedia Commons by Christian Taube with usage type - Creative Commons License. Modified/cropped. April 9, 2005
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