Wouldn't you need a conductor for the electrons to be able to flow from one object to another?

[Additional Info] If a metal object with excess electrons comes into contact with a neutral metal object, electric charges will flow until both objects have the same charge.

When an insulating charged object ( e.g. PVC ) comes into contact with a neutral metal object, how can the electrons move through the PVC to the point where it is in contact with the metal object?

I would expect the amount of charge transferred to be extremely small compared to metal objects, possibly too small to detect using simple experiments, but this is clearly not so.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The insulator becomes conducting if it reaches the breakdown voltage. $\endgroup$ – Yashas Mar 2 '17 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ I would also add that there is no perfect insulator. Everything conducts electricity, even empty space. $\endgroup$ – MaDrung Mar 2 '17 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ This question seems somewhat unclear: What is the charged insulator? What is is supposed to discharge to? A charged woollen jumper can partially discharge to my (conducting) hand when I touch charged parts, a charged cloud can discharge through the air in lightning if the voltage is large enough, etc. $\endgroup$ – Toffomat Mar 2 '17 at 15:37

If you charge an insulator in air with a large enough surface charge, the electric field at the surface can easily exceed the breakdown field of air leading to ionization of air molecules and a discharge current. This causes frequently observed spark discharges after frictional contact of different (insulating) materials, especially when the air humidity is low.. See Triboelectric Effect.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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