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What Is Static Electricity?

Category: General ESD Questions

All items are made from small atoms. These atoms are made up of even smaller items called protons, neutrons and electrons. The protons are charged positive, the neutrons have no charge and the electrons are charged negative. Under normal conditions there are the same amount of protons and electrons giving atoms no charge.

However, these electrons can move. When separating or rubbing together of materials, electrons can move from atom to atom or from one material to another (triboelectric charging). This can mean that atoms can hold a positive or negative charge, (dependent on movement and direction of electrons). If the material in question is an insulator, this charge can be held and not move. This is called static electricity.

The rapid movement or decay of these charges can cause expensive problems, whether it is huge and dangerous charges such as lightening or simply an annoying (and sometimes painful) “electric shock” when touching a filing cabinet or when getting out of a car. (The charges are normally on you!).

These charges can be a huge problem for small sensitive electronic devices. Some devices can be damaged or destroyed by as little as 10 volts. Charges on your body, simply by walking or even sitting at your chair, can be in excess of 5000 volts, (human body model). This can be caused by items of clothing rubbing together or by shoes separating from insulating flooring such as carpets.

Imagine the damage this could cause. This is why it is important that insulators should be avoided and all possible static electricity generators (such as you) should (must) be grounded to eliminate any build up of charges.

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