# What is the difference between “normal” electricity and static electricity?

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What is the difference between “normal” electricity and static electricity?

In: Physics

Movement of electrons.

Static electricity is as the word static means not moving. It is a build up a charge like shuffling your feet on carpet. The electrons build up on you and when you touch a door knob, the charge is discharged. Your hair might stand up from the charge.

“Normal electricity” involves movement of electrons. Like when you put a battery in a device. It completes a circuit allowing the electrons to travel.

Flip a switch off, the flow is stopped.

Both “types” of electricity happen because of small negatively-charged particles called electrons. Because electrons are all negative, they’re constantly trying to get away from each other and get to something positively-charged. Positive charges are caused by protons, which are found in the center of every atom. The center of an atom, called the nucleus, usually has electrons orbiting it because they’re attracted to the positive protons. When an atom has the same amount of protons and electrons, we say it’s neutral. If the atom has too many electrons we call it negative, and if it doesn’t have enough we call it positive. Electrons are constantly moving around, which eventually can give us electricity.

With normal electricity, we “push” electrons through metal using batteries or generators using their attraction to positive charges. Solid metal is special because electrons can flow freely between atoms without orbiting them forever, which lets us have the “regular” electricity we use to power things.

With static electricity, (as an example) rubbing the atoms of your sleeve against the atoms of a rug causes your electrons to get shoved around, and your sleeve ends up with too many electrons. Your sleeve doesn’t let electrons move around much, so they get stuck and your sleeve becomes negatively charged. Since electrons dislike being next to each other, when you grab a door knob or someone’s hand, all those electrons see an opening to get away from each other, and they jump onto that more positive object, causing static shock.

One of the issues that can hurt understanding is that “normal” electricity (that is, a circuit with a battery and a lightbulb or whatever) is modeled very similarly to static electricity in school to help with comprehension, and even application.

In static electricity there is a build up of negatively charged electrons which leap to a less negatively charged thing causing a spark. Also like repels like, and unlike attracts, if you have negatively charged things from excess electrons or positively charged things from a lack of electrons. All pretty easy to understand eh?

Then we get to current in a circuit and the *simplified* version is that there is a build up of electrons on the negative side of the cell and they flow through the circuit, drop off energy at the load, and end up used up on the positive side of the cell. Very similar idea to static electricity, but not at all what is actually happening.

In such a circuit the electrons are actually not moving through it at all (technically they are just very slowly through something called electron drift which is basically unrelated to what we’re talking about) but are essentially staying in place just bumping into each other. What you actually want to be considering is how the electromagnetic field propagates through space around the circuit and the interplay with charge in a cross section of conductors. Something [like this](https://i.stack.imgur.com/9kAkv.png). It is complicated, has no handy water in pipes analogy, and isn’t really necessary for highschool level physics nor even many STEM undergrad degrees. It’s very different from static electricity though.