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Mylar tinsel can do some pretty magical stuff

Magic floating orb of tinsel

And when you're finished with the tinsel experiment, you can do this with the tinselScience can often times seem like magic. In this mind bending experiment, we’ll demonstrate a very basic scientific principle with an experiment that will astonish your friends and confuse your Dad – and all you’ll need is a PVC pipe, Christmas tinsel, and a head of clean, dry hair to create a “magic wand” that will float a colorful orb. It won’t float your little sister or little brother out the window but it’s still pretty cool.

  1. Start with the Mylar Christmas tinsel (the thinner the tinsel the better the result). Take six strands of the Mylar tinsel and bundle them together by tying one end of the tinsel in a single knot. Tie the other end of the tinsel in a knot leaving about five to seven inches between this knot and the first knot you tied. Cut off the extra tinsel as close to the knot as possible.
  2. For this experiment, a one half to one inch PVC pipe about two feet long works best. Your Dad can cut the PVC pipe to the correct length using a PVC pipe cutter.
  3. Holding one end of the PVC pipe, rub the pipe in the hair on the back of your head for about 15 seconds. If you don’t have any hair then a wool cloth will also work. You may hear a crackling noise as the pipe is electrically charged.
  4. Hold the pipe completely vertical in one hand and with the other hand, hold the Mylar tinsel above the pipe end . Drop the Mylar tinsel so it falls onto the end of the pipe.

The Mylar tinsel will fall towards the pipe and just before it touches the pipe, the Mylar tinsel will spread out into a ball-like orb and pop back up into the air where it will float (magically) above the pipe. You can now shift the pipe around “balancing” the floating orb above the pipe.

Rubbing the PVP pipe in your hair gives the pipe a negative charge. The Mylar tinsel will have a positive charge, at least until it touches the pipe. Since the two items have different charges, they will be attracted to each other. The Mylar tinsel will jump towards the pipe. Once the tinsel touches the pipe it will gain a negative charge by taking part of the negative charge away from the PVC pipe.

If static charges such as this are the same, they will repel each other. The tinsel will also spread out into a ball-like orb because each strand has a negative charge and will attempt to repel away from each of the other negatively charged strands.

Part of the challenge with this experiment is keeping the Mylar tinsel orb away from your body. If the tinsel touches your body, it will lose its charge and you’ll have to start again.

Also, if the tube is not charged enough, the tinsel will stick to it. If this happens, rub the tube on your hair longer or try rubbing it on another material such as a wool cloth or wool sweater.

Experiment Supplies

Supplies: Tinsel, PVC Pipe


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