Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

If you rubbed a balloon with a towel, where would the electrons go: the balloon or the towel? Why?

I'm guessing the electrons would go to the object with a larger mass, but it's just a guess. :)

share|cite|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

This article on triboelectricity gives a triboelectric series, listing materials according to whether they will expel electrons or acquire them , when rubbed or in contact.

Towel is not in there :) but cotton is, with 0 but it is more positive than rubber. So the answer is that the electrons will move to the balloon, if you manage to get cotton to give up its electrons :) . Did you do the experiment? A woolen towel would be much better. Maybe it was your hand that gave up the electrons after all.

This is what wikipedia has to say on the causes:

After coming into contact, a chemical bond is formed between some parts of the two surfaces, called adhesion, and charges move from one material to the other to equalize their electrochemical potential. This is what creates the net charge imbalance between the objects. When separated, some of the bonded atoms have a tendency to keep extra electrons, and some a tendency to give them away, though the imbalance will be partially destroyed by tunneling or electrical breakdown (usually corona discharge). In addition, some materials may exchange ions of differing mobility, or exchange charged fragments of larger molecules.

Hence the need of a table.

share|cite|improve this answer
""After coming into contact, a chemical bond is formed between some parts of the two surfaces,"" This is plain nonsense. The rest of the citation is not much better. Such finds show the limits of Wikipedia. – Georg Apr 5 '11 at 10:08
@Georg You can always edit what you don't like and improve it - that's the entire point of Wikipedia. – Mateen Ulhaq Apr 6 '11 at 2:42
I know, Muntoo, and I do it in case of a typo or when I think someone has a problem with language. But I never will change content. AnnaV copied that from Wiki, it is up to her. – Georg Apr 6 '11 at 9:30
well, the triboelectric series would really help in this regard.... – idiosincrasia23 Mar 20 '13 at 0:33

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.