Each year when teaching polarization phenomena and the Triboelectric Series in a unit on electrostatics, I would balance some rods (2–3 ft in length) made from wood, aluminum, PVC, and Plexiglas on an inverted watch glass and demonstrate to the class how a party balloon rubbed with fake rabbit fur (charging the balloon negative) would always attract the uncharged rods, causing them to rotate towards the balloon (see Fig. 1). The fact that a charged object always attracts a neutral object due to the induced dipole in the latter is a great way to test if something is in fact charged. Surprisingly, the PVC pipe would usually, but not always, repel the charged balloon and rotate away! Repulsion means that neither of the objects are electrically neutral. In a separate test, after rubbing together a Plexiglas rod with a polyethylene grocery bag (making the rod positively charged and the bag negatively charged), the PVC usually attracts the rod. With the help of a student as part of his senior project, I finally decided to investigate further the source of the negative charge that exists on PVC. Specifically, is it nothing more than static charge that builds up on the pipe from unavoidable contact with its surroundings, or is it somehow intrinsic to the manufacturing process?
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PAPERS| January 01 2016
Polarizing PVC — A Discrepant Event
Phys. Teach. 54, 6–7 (2016)
David Headly, Mohamed Karabatek; Polarizing PVC — A Discrepant Event. Phys. Teach. 1 January 2016; 54 (1): 6–7. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.4937961
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