While common in everyday life, the science behind this phenomenon is not well understood. Static electricity is one of the most common, yet poorly understand, forms of power generation. A new study suggests the cause of this hair-raising phenomenon is tiny structural changes that occur at the surface of materials when they come into contact with each other.
The finding could someday help technology companies create more sustainable and longer-lasting power sources for small electronic devices.
Supported by a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant, researchers are conducting research on the triboelectric effect, a phenomenon wherein one material becomes electrically charged after it contacts a different material through friction.
The triboelectric effect has been known since ancient times, but the tools for understanding and applying it have only become available recently due to the advent of nanotechnology.
The research they conduct is a mix of disciplines, including contact mechanics, solid mechanics, materials science, electrical engineering and manufacturing. With computer models and physical experiments, they are engineering triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs), which are capable of controlling and harvesting static electricity.
The friction between our fingers and our smartphone screen. The friction between your wrist and smartwatch. Even the friction between our shoe and the ground. These are great potential sources of energy that we can to tap into, according to the researchers.