I do apologize for the ignorance that I'm sure is imbedded in this question, but I'd like to understand the exact point at which the following argument goes wrong:

1) A battery (let's say an ordinary flashlight battery) maintains a voltage between its positive and negative terminals.

2) The only way to maintain a voltage is by maintaining a charge distribution. Therefore, at least one of the terminals on that battery carries a non-zero net charge.

3) If a terminal carries a non-zero net charge, I ought to be able to use it to pick up a paper clip.

Nevertheless, my flashlight batteries do not pick up paper clips. Is this because the charge is too small or because (at least) one of my three points is dreadfully wrong?

• Your paperclip is electrically neutral. Jul 13 '12 at 0:55
• Richard Terrett: Yes, my paper clip is electrically neutral, but I'd have thought that a (say) positively charged terminal would draw electrons toward the close end of the paper clip, whereupon that end would acquire a slight negative charge, leading it to stick to the terminal. Jul 13 '12 at 1:03
• Richard Terrett: If nevertheless you are saying that I am wrong about point 3), I'd still like to know whether it is true that the terminals on my battery carry non-zero net charges (when, say, the battery is stored in a drawer). Jul 13 '12 at 1:04
• WillO is right, @Richard is wrong. There will be a surface charge induced on the paper clip to "shield" the inside of the paper clip from the electric field of the battery. And the paper clip will be attracted to the battery terminal. The force must be very small. You can move particles around with static charges, see sciencefair-projects.org/physics-projects/… for example. Jul 13 '12 at 1:38
• If there were a charge on the terminals, then opposite terminals from two batteries would attract each other. Part 2 is most likely not correct. Jul 13 '12 at 1:47