What is Lightening? Make your own!

  • Introduction
  • Results & Video
  • Materials
  • Procedure
  • Preparation & References
  • Downloads


Static electricity is charge imbalance of electric charges. Lightening is a natural example of the discharge of static electricity.

In this activity, students will create a charge imbalance by transfering negative charge from wool fabric to an insulating styrofoam plate. When a foil plate comes into contact, charge is transferred tot he foil plate. Students will feel a shock when they touch the foil plate while it is is contact with the styrofoam plate.

Water is a conductor of electric charge. Thus, when the air is humid charges are conducted through it, making it difficult to create an imbalance of charge. However, dry air is a poor conductor of electric charge. This activity works better when the ambient humidity is low so that the charge imbalance can be created and maintained.


Video & Results

None at this time.


  • styrofoam plate
  • foil pie pan
  • wool cloth
  • wood pencil with an eraser
  • thumbtack


  1. Set the styrofoam plate down on a table.
  2. Rub the plate vigorously with the wool for 1 minute.
  3. Holding the foil pan by the pencil, set it on top of the styrofoam plate.
  4. Pick up the foil plate. The styrofoam plate may stick to it.
  5. Touch the plate with your finger. You may feel a shock.

Notes & References

Humidity will make it very difficult to generate static sparks. This activity is described on several other websites. The Exploratorium in San Francisco explains the concepts well. Another good site:


Pierce the foil pan from the top side to the bottom with a thumbtack. Stab the eraser of the pencil with the sharp end of the thumbtack while it is pointing up through the bottom side of the pan. The pencil will now act as a handle for holding the foil pan without discharging the static electricity.