Who discovered static electricity?


Quick Answer

The Greek philosopher Thales is said to be the first observer of the effects of static electricity based on the accounts of another Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Although historians assert that there is a lack of sufficient evidence to support Aristotle's claim, it demonstrated that ancient Greeks already had a basic understanding of electrical properties.

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Full Answer

Around 600 B.C., Thales of Melitus discovered that a petrified tree resin, known as amber, attracted bits of dry straw after being rubbed against a piece of animal fur. The electron, which is the primary subatomic particle that produces electricity, derived its name from "elektron," which in Greek means "amber."

Static electricity is defined as a stationary electrical charge due to the unequal number of protons and electrons in a material. Objects are generally neutral, meaning they contain the same number of protons and electrons. The negatively- charged electrons neutralize the positively charged protons. However, when dry materials are rapidly moved against each other, friction is produced and some of the electrons from one material are transferred to the other. The material with an excess number of electrons gains a positive charge, while the material with a deficit in electrons gains a positive charge. The difference in charges produce an attractive force between the two materials. Common examples that demonstrate static electricity include lightning and experiencing an electrical zap after walking across the carpet and then touching a metallic object.

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