What is electrostatics?

We explain what electrostatics are, the topics of study that this branch of physics focuses on and what electrostatic phenomena are.

  1. What is electrostatics?

A branch of Physics is known as electrostatics that studies the effects produced in the bodies as a result of their electrical charges , or what is the same, the behavior of the electric charges in equilibrium. Said electric charge is responsible for the electrostatic effects (of attraction or repulsion) that are generated between the bodies that possess it.

Electrostatics emerged, historically, long before it was understood that electricity and magnetism are related phenomena and must be studied together.

The ancient Greeks had already noticed the strange phenomena that arose from rubbing a piece of amber with wool or other fabrics, and how they attracted small objects with static electricity.

The formulation of Coulomb’s Law in the seventeenth century and Maxwell’s Laws in the nineteenth century gave definitive form to the field of discipline, and laid the foundations for its inclusion in the formal study of  electromagnetism .

The object of study of electrostatics is, therefore, static electricity . This is defined as the phenomenon produced between two bodies that have accumulated an electric charge, either by induction or by friction, and then discharge it upon contact, generating different types of reaction.

  • Electric charge by rubbing . Certain objects can be electrically charged after being rubbed against each other, since this contact strips the external electrons to one and transfers them to the other, energetically favorable. This object is thus charged electronegatively, while the other is electropositively charged. This will be much more powerful if the rubbed materials are insulating.
  • Electric charge by induction . Another static electricity charging mechanism requires contact between an electronegatively charged material and an uncharged one. Physical contact causes the uncharged object to polarize: surface electrons flee to the opposite end of the contact and negatively charge the end, while the place of contact is positively charged. This translates into a net electric force, even though the second object lacks electric charge as such.

For a long time it was thought that this type of electricity was of a different type from that generated by magnets or other mechanisms; until Michel Faraday in the nineteenth century showed that it was different forms of the exact same electricity.

  1. Electrostatic phenomena

Numerous recorded phenomena allow us to experience what is postulated by electrostatics, even through daily and simple exercises, for example:

  • When combing . If the comb has a certain type of insulating plastic material , rubbing it repeatedly against our hair will charge electricity and attract our hair, causing it to rise or stand on end. You can even use that loaded comb to attract small pieces of paper.
  • Drag your feet across the carpet . You must have cloth socks on, so that static electricity accumulates in our body and then we can touch someone directly and feel a small electric shock between the skins.
  • Rub a glass with a cloth . If the cloth is thick enough, the glass (which is an insulator) will be electrically charged and will attract small particles around it.

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