Christmas is over and soon the tree and all the rest will come down. But the tinsel always seems to hang around a bit longer – so why not do science with it?
Tinsel now is actually made of plastic – mylar, just like the shiny balloons – because it is very light and cheap to make. Mylar tinsel is ideal for static electricity experiments because it holds a charge for a long time. (Learn more about how tinsel is made here.)
This simple static activity is sold commercially to budding magicians but you can create your own easily at home AND you’ll know the science behind the trick.
First gather six 6-inch long pieces of tinsel. Carefully tie the tinsel all together on one end and then again at the other end.
Charge up a balloon with electrons by rubbing it on your head or wool sweater. You can also use a length of PVC pipe if you’re going for the magic want look.
Hold your tinsel above the balloon or pipe and watch fly towards the negative charge.
Drop the tinsel so it falls on the charged balloon. As soon as it hits the balloon some of the electrons will be transferred to the tinsel and it will immediately be repelled by the balloon and fly up into the air. The tinsel will expend to make a ball shape.
If your balloon is charged up well enough and the tinsel isn’t too heavy you should be able to fly your levitating tinsel for several seconds. If the tinsel doesn’t levitate try to use smaller, lighter pieces.
Once you’ve got the hang of it, try out these experiments:
- Does the number of tinsel strands affect how long the tinsel ball floats?
- Does the material you use to charge your balloon or wand affect how long the tinsel ball floats? Try hair, fur, wool, cotton, nylon and others.
- Do different sizes of pipe or balloons affect how long the tinsel ball floats?
- Try other chargers such as a comb or Styrofoam cup. What combination of charger, charging material and tinsel makes the longest or highest floating tinsel ball?
Adapted from Science Bob at https://sciencebob.com/make-a-levitating-orb/