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3.4. Electrostatic Action


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 3. A Simple Science Lens > 3.4. Electrostatic Action

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When molecules of two objects are in contact then some of the forces between them will be electrostatic. Electrons will be held in position and have a force between them and other positive charges in the molecules (protons) of the other object. There are technical names for the different ways this happens (Covalent bonds, Metallic bonds, Hydrogen bonds and van der Waal forces). What is happening depends on whether the electrons are held specifically between two molecules or are held generally in the electrical field created by many molecules. An easy way to think of this is by imagining a crowded party. You may have difficulty moving between people because of the general need to push people around to make space for yourself or you may need to break apart hands which are holding onto each other. So molecules may just occupy a crowded electrical space or they may be holding tight and the bonds need breaking.

 What is really going on is very complicated but for inventions we might be able to simply think about what we might do to a surface to increase or decrease the friction from electrostatic forces.

For example, we could deliberately charge up the surfaces, placing electrons on or near the surface. We can alter the field reaction between the objects if they can carry a charge, we can even make the force a magnetic attraction. We can also change how much hand holding there is by changing the properties of the materials (with additives or new materials).

We should be aware that if we make our surface smoother then more molecules are getting close to other molecules, which could increase the forces of attraction between them, hence making friction greater. So we can see that although making surfaces smoother reduces friction by reducing bounce, shearing and elastic bending it increases friction through greater electrostatic forces.


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