Fun with Less Kilowatts: The Lightning Experiment

By Brooke Drake, May 18, 2016, Family

Welcome to Fun with Less Kilowatts! We believe that science experiments at home can be a creative way to engage kids in learning while having fun. They can be educational AND great activities to keep your kids busy and away from the television. Each month, we’ll feature a new science experiment that can be a great resource for parents and teachers.

The Lightning Experiment

Fun with Less Kilowatts: The Lightning Experiment

Here in Texas, we tend to see a lot of lightning, so I wanted to figure out if I could actually catch lightning in a bottle. Turns out – you can! with this experiment, we’re going to create a “homemade” version of lighting as a fun, hands-on way to show my kids how lightning is made.

The Materials

Fun with Less Kilowatts: The Lightning Experiment

The scratchier the sweater, the better because it means more static electricity!

  • Inflated balloon
  • Wool clothing or a piece of real fur
  • A metal surface preferably a doorknob or filing cabinet.

The Setting

It’s important to conduct this experiment in a dark room in order to see the flash of light.

The Directions

  1. Blow up a balloon and tie it.
  2. Once in a dark room, quickly rub the inflated balloon against the wool object (or fur) about 10 times or more.
  3. Then immediately move the balloon close to the metal object. You should instantly see a tiny spark.

The Results

Fun with Less Kilowatts: The Lightning Experiment

A doorknob makes for a great source of metal because your kids can reach it with ease.

When rubbing the balloon against the woolen item, the movement charges the balloon with static electricity. With this charge of static electricity, the balloon should shoot out a small spark when it gets close to any metal object. These tiny sparks act just like lightning on a much smaller scale.

When we tried the experiment, it took us a few tries before seeing a tiny spark. So be persistent if you don’t see something on the first try!

The Science

In short, lightning is a powerful burst of electricity that is caused from positive and negative charges coming together during a thunderstorm.

  • When a thunderstorm moves in, there is moving air inside a thundercloud that creates tiny droplets of rain and ice.
  • Those droplets begin to rapidly move around rubbing against each other, which charges them with static electricity.
  • That electrical charge is made up of a positive charge (protons) that float towards the top of the cloud and a negative charge (electrons) that forms towards the bottom of the cloud.

As you’ve probably learned in science, opposites attract, so naturally within a thundercloud, the negative charge seeks the positive charge. So when the two charges meet – Boom! You have lightning!

Let us know about successes with the Lightning Experiment in the comments, and we’ll be back next month with another installment of Fun with Less Kilowatts!

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