Uses & Dangers of Static Electricity (Edexcel IGCSE Physics)

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Uses of Static Electricity

  • Electrostatic charges are used in everyday situations such as photocopiers and inkjet printers


  • Photocopiers use static electricity to copy paper documents, most commonly in black and white
  • An image of the document is projected onto a positively charged copying plate
  • The plate loses its charge in the light areas and keeps the positive charge in the dark areas (i.e the text)
  • A negatively charged black toner powder is applied to the plate and sticks to the part where there is a positive charge
  • The toner is then transferred onto a new blank sheet of white paper
  • The paper is heated to make sure the powder sticks (hence why photocopied paper feels warm)
    • The photocopy of the document is now made

  • Inkjet printers work in a similar way, but instead of the black toner powder, a small jet of coloured ink is negatively charged and attracted to the correct place on the page

Photocopier, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Physics revision notes

Insecticide Sprayers

  • Insecticides are chemicals used to kill pests in order to protect crops
  • In order to spray crops effectively whilst using a minimal amount of chemicals, the sprayer has to deliver the chemicals as a fine mist and cover a large area
  • To achieve this, the insecticide is given an electrostatic charge (e.g. positive) as it leaves the sprayer
  • The droplets of insecticide then repel each other since they are the same charge
    • This ensures that the spray remains fine and covers a large area

  • They are also attracted to the negative charges on Earth, so they will fall quickly and are less likely to be blown away
  • A similar technique is used in the spray painting of cars

Insecticide Spray, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Physics revision notes

Dangers of Static Electricity

  • Static electricity can cause sparking
  • There are various situations where static electricity can pose a hazard, for example:
    • The risk of electrocution (e.g from lightning)
    • The risk of a fire or explosion due to a spark close to a flammable gas or liquid

  • There are dangers of sparking in everyday situations such as fuelling vehicles such as cars and planes
  • Earthing is used to prevent the dangerous build-up of charge
    • This is done by connecting the vehicles to the Earth with a conductor

Fuelling Vehicles

  • A build-up of static charge is a potential danger when refuelling aeroplanes
  • Fuel runs through pipes at a fast rate
    • This fuel is very flammable

  • The friction between the fuel (a liquid insulator) and the pipe causes the fuel to gain charge
  • If this charge were to cause a spark, the fuel could ignite and cause an explosion

Refuelling Aeroplane, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Physics revision notes

  • This is prevented by the fuel tank being connected to the Earth with a copper wire called the bonding line during the refuelling
  • The conductor earths the plane by carrying the charge through to the Earth which removes the risk of any sparks

Exam Tip

  • You could be asked to explain other dangers and uses in your exams
  • They may ask you to explain the movement of charge in terms of electrons
  • If asked to explain a danger:
    • State what the danger is (electrocution? fire?)
    • Explain how the charge can be removed to get rid of the risk i.e earthing (think about which way the electrons have to move)

  • If asked to explain a use, think carefully about the forces exerted due to static electricity and what they will do

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Author: Ashika

Ashika graduated with a first-class Physics degree from Manchester University and, having worked as a software engineer, focused on Physics education, creating engaging content to help students across all levels. Now an experienced GCSE and A Level Physics and Maths tutor, Ashika helps to grow and improve our Physics resources.