In this science experiment we will make a miniature bolt of lightning using a balloon, piece of
wool, and some metal. We will explore static electricity and what causes lightning. We will learn
about electrons, atoms, positive and negative charges.
In a storm cloud, the moving air makes tiny water droplets and ice rub together so they become
charged with static electricity. The positive electrical charges float up near the top of the cloud
and the larger ones, with negative charges, stay near the bottom. This separation of electrical
charges is very unstable and lightning is the way the charges are equalized or become
- Wool (wool sweaters work well)
- A metal surface like a filing cabinet or a metal door knob.
Process To Make Lightning
1) Blow up the balloons.
2) Shut off the lights in a room at night and get it as dark as possible.
3) Rub the balloon rapidly against a piece of wool or wool sweater times or more. This will give
the balloon a negative charge as electrons jump from the wool to the balloon. When rubbing the
wool against the balloon we are creating static electricity and saving it up in the balloon.
4) Move the balloon close to something metal like a filing cabinet or a door knob.
5) Watch for a flash or spark that jumps from the balloon to the metal object just like lighting.
7) Please note: The humidity in the air can affect static electricity. If the air is damp, such as
during the winter, then this experiment may not work.
The Science Behind Making Lightning
The balloon is being used to create static electricity. The flash or spark that jumps from the
balloon to the metal object is like lighting, though much, much smaller in scale.
With real lightning the static electricity charge is built up in the clouds just like our balloon. Then
eventually gets discharges towards an object just like our metal door nob or filing cabinet did
with the static electricity in the balloon.
When we rub the balloon with the piece of wool, electrons jump from the wool to the balloon.
This gives the balloon a negative charge. The metal door nob or filing cabinet is positively
charged. When we hold the balloon over the metal door nob the opposite charges attract,
meaning the negatively charged balloon attracts the positive charge of the door nob. As a result
we make lightning as the positive electrons jump to the balloon.
Everything is made up of atoms. You’re made of atoms, the balloon is made of atoms and the
door nobs are made of atoms. Atoms are made up of smaller particles. One kind of particle is
called an electron. Electrons have negative charges.
Some materials pick up electrons really well, like the balloon or clouds in the sky. Other
materials are really good at giving electrons away, like the wool. When the wool rubs the
balloon, electrons from the wool stick to the balloon. This is static electricity.
The balloon has a lot of negative charges, but the door nob has a lot of positive charges.
Opposite charges attract, and static charges are pulled from the door nob towards the balloon.
In the clouds the static electricity charges are pulled towards something on the surface of earth
and you see lightning. Congratulations you are now an expert. Now go make lightning with your
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