Q:

How do objects become electrically charged?

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Quick Answer

Objects become electrically charged by gaining or losing electrons, so that they have unequal numbers of protons and electrons. Gaining excess electrons causes a negative charge, while losing electrons causes a positive charge. A charged object behaves differently than an object with neutral charge, attracting objects with an opposite charge and repelling objects with a similar charge.

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How do objects become electrically charged?
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Full Answer

There are many processes that cause an object to become electrically charged. Charge occurs in discreet units, with each positive or negative charge being equal to some multiple of the charge of individual protons or electrons. Individual charged particles are known as ions. These occur in table salt, for instance, which is a crystalline lattice of sodium and chloride ions, held together by their opposite charges. Despite being composed of charged particles, salt itself has little charge, since the positive and negative charges in it are nearly equal.

Mechanical processes, such as rubbing a balloon on hair, also cause electrical charges. Different elements have different electron affinities. When a substance with a greater electron affinity rubs against one with a lesser affinity, it steals some of the electrons, causing both to gain a charge.

Excess charge can be dangerous. Lightning, for instance, occurs due to a charge difference between the atmosphere and the ground. This difference in charge builds until it exceeds the electrical resistance of the air, and then a stream of electrons travels between the air and the ground, equalizing the charges.

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Related Questions

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    Why is a current-carrying wire normally not electrically charged?

    A:

    A current-carrying wire is not electrically charged because there are as many electrons as protons in the wire. As electrons flow in from one side, they flow out from the other, leading to no buildup of charge.

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  • Q:

    How does an electrically polarized object differ from an electrically charged object?

    A:

    An electrically charged object is made from atoms that do not contain an equal number of electrons and protons, giving them a positive or negative charge, while an electrically polarized object is made from atoms that have a neutral charge but the electrons and protons have changed their orientation within each atom. Electrically charged atoms are referred to as ions.

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    What causes static electricity?

    A:

    Static electricity is caused when objects or particles make contact and either gain or lose electrons due to friction, and the charged object discharges into a nearby object. Rubbing objects together increases the contact area. Examples of static electricity include touching a doorknob in cold weather and receiving a shock.

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  • Q:

    How does friction produce static electricity?

    A:

    Friction produces static electricity by initiating the transfer of electrons between two or more objects. With regards to electron transfers, objects are either conductors or insulators. Conductors give up electrons readily because the electrons are not confined to a particular atom. Insulators do not transfer electrons readily.

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