The blog of Xeno, a slightly mad scientist
It might be called a shock finding. Coating plastic or rubber materials with antioxidants such as vitamin E stops static charge from building up on the polymer’s surface, chemists report today. The discovery could prove a cheap solution to problems such as dust clinging to plastic, static electric shocks, or the sparks that damage television circuits and fry computer motherboards.
Children can have fun with static electricity – when they rub balloons on their hair, the rubber and hair stick together because of the attraction between transferred charged particles. But static charge that builds up on industrial components, such as plastic fuel filters on cars or inside semiconductor parts, can lead to potentially dangerous electric sparks and a build-up of dust.
The puzzle with static electricity, explains Bartosz Grzybowski, a physical chemist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, is that although charged particles should repel each other when they land on an insulating surface, making them spread evenly across a material and leak back into the air, they actually form stable, long-lived clumps. This leads to the build-up of large amounts of tightly confined static charge, enough to abruptly discharge when a conductive path becomes available: for example, shooting through a human body to a metal railing, or sparking through air like a miniature lightning bolt.
I find this interesting due to claims that grounding (for example by going barefoot) can reduce oxidative stress and heal disease.