Electricity and Magnetism

Conductivity of Water

What it shows:

Pure water is an electrical insulator. But provide an ionic compound in the form of salt, and you complete the circuit.

How it works:

A simple circuit with the mains supply connected to a 15W light bulb and two copper sheet electrodes (figure 1). The electrodes are placed in a 1500ml beaker containing distilled water. Distilled water is a very good insulator, with an autoionisation of 1:10-7 (the proportion of molecules in H3O+ + OH- form) it has a resistance of...

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Energy Stored in a Capacitor

What it shows:

The electrical energy stored in a capacitor is converted to mechanical work, driving a motor and raising a weight.

How it works:

A motor 1 is mounted atop a 2.5m length of 2×4. As it turns, it raises a 1 lb mass on a string from the ground by wrapping the string around a spindle (figure 1). The motor is driven by the discharge of a 12800µF, 75V capacitor previously charged by a DC power supply. 2 A double throw switch allows a clean change-over from one circuit to the other.
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Capacitance of Human Body

What it shows:

Determine the capacitance of the human body as follows. Charge a person of unkown capacitance to 1000 volts. The person is subsequently connected (in parallel) to an external capacitor of known capacitance. The voltage measured across the capacitor combination allows one to determine the unknown capacitance of the person (typically between 180 — 200 pF).

How it works:

A 1000 volt power supply (output is in the microamp range) is used to put charge on a person. We assume that the amount of charge transferred to the...

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Giant Capacitor

What it shows:

The basic principles of the parallel plate capacitor made large.

How it works:

The capacitance C of a simple parallel plate capacitor is given by


the ratio of the magnitude of the charge Q on either conductor to the potential difference between the...

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Walk-In Faraday Cage

What it shows:

A lecturer's faith in the principle that an electric field cannot exist inside a charged conductor is put to the test using a Faraday cage that is large enough to sit in.

How it works:

The lecturer (or some volunteer) climbs the three steps and sits upon a plain wooden chair. Their assistant pulls the mesh door closed and fastens it. A Van de Graaff, whose dome is in contact with the cage, begins to charge itself and the cage up to a high voltage. The person inside is oblivious to the large amount of charge now...

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Benjamin Franklin's Thunder House

A replica of Franklin's Thunder House demonstating the efficacy of his invention—the lightning rod. The class will get a charge out of this one.

thunder house

Electric Force on Neutral Object

A neutral conductor (or dielectric) experiences a torque, but no net force, when placed in a uniform electric field. It does experience a net force in a non-uniform field.

What it shows:

When an electrically neutral object is suspended in a uniform electric field, it becomes polarized. The electric force on the separated charges produces a torque about the suspension point and the object rotates. There is no translational motion—the object simply aligns itself with the electric field.

When an electrically neutral object is...

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Hair Raising

What it shows:

A Van de Graaff generator will apply a charge to its dome and anything else in contact with the dome. Should that object be a person, they obtain a net surplus of charge (be it positive or negative). It is especially noticeable with hair, as each individual strand is repelled from every other and from the scalp.

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Conservation of Charge to 2 Sig Figs

What is shows:

A neutral system of charges is rearranged...charge measured on one part is equal and opposite to the charge on another part. In that respect, this demonstration is not much different from the " 3 Sig Figs" demo in which voltage measurements are used. Conservation of charge is typically introduced in the first few lectures of an E&M course, before the concepts of voltage and capacitance are discussed. If voltage is the quantity...

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Conservation of Charge to 3 Sig Figs

What it shows:

Electricity is never created or destroyed, but only transferred. Rubbing fur and Teflon™ together transfers charge (electrons) from the fur to the Teflon, making the Teflon negatively charged. Conservation of charge requires the fur to become equally and oppositely charged as is demonstrated in this experiment to an accuracy of ≤1%.

How it works:

The difficulty in demonstrating charge conservation quantitatively lies in catching all the charge before it leaks away, the fur being the main problem. This is overcome...

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Induced Electric Dipole

What it shows:

Bringing a charged rod close to neutral dielectric polarizes the dielectric's surface charges. Here a pile of Styrofoam puffs are polarized and attracted to a charged rod.

How it works:

The neutral puff experiences a non-uniform electric field from the rod. Although there are polarized charges of both kinds, because (figure 1) the field is stronger near the rod due to the concentration of positive charges, there is a net attraction. On a dry day they'll jump to meet the rod.

figure 1....

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