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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Static Electricity Snowflakes

Static Electricity Day, celebrated on Jan. 9, can help spark curiosity about this interesting aspect of physics. In this simple, hands-on activity, you can experiment with hair-raising electricity as you pick up a paper snowflake using just a balloon!


Materials Needed:

  • Balloon
  • Scissors
  • Tissue Paper


Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Using your scissors, cut tissue paper into the shape of a circle. 
  2. Fold the circle-shaped tissue paper in half, then fold it in half two more times. 
  3. Cut a pattern of your choice into the sides of the folded-up tissue paper. 
  4. Unfold the tissue paper to reveal your snowflake design, then lay it on a flat surface. 
  5. Fill a balloon with air and tie it closed. 
  6. Rub the balloon on your head vigorously for 15 to 20 seconds. 
  7. Hold the balloon a few inches above your snowflake and slowly lower it until the snowflake begins to rise. 
  8. Experiment by moving the balloon up and down to make the snowflake move even more!


What Are We Discovering?

You might think magic is helping your tissue paper snowflake float, but it’s actually static electricity!

Every object is made up of atoms, and inside those atoms are protons, electrons and neutrons. Protons are positively charged, electrons are negatively charged and neutrons are neutral. Just like magnets, opposite charges attract each other and like charges repel each other. Static electricity occurs when there is an imbalance in electric charges of an object, and they build up until they find a way to release.

When you rubbed the balloon on your head, you transferred negative electrons from your hair to the balloon. This made the balloon have a negative charge on the surface, so it could pick up light objects with a positive charge, like the tissue paper snowflake.

Many scientists have researched atoms, including National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Enrico Fermi, the first physicist to split the atom. Fermi’s research pioneered nuclear power generation and led him to work with Hall of Fame Inductee Leo Szilard. Szilard made significant contributions to the fields of statistical mechanics, nuclear physics, nuclear engineering, genetics, molecular biology and political science. The work of these outstanding physicists and innovators will lead to even greater innovation in the future.


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