Prompt word for a conversational style story: thingy.
“Oh, it was huge!”
“His…his…thingy! My hair stood up soon as I touched it! Way bigger than yours! Why is yours so tiny?”
“Okay, first of all, that “thingy” is called a Van de Graaff Generator. And it’s not his, it’s paid for by the University. Mine was a small model. Secondly, could you please lower your voice, people are staring at us.”
“But yours doesn’t tingle me like his does.”
Reader, as you may already know, a Van de Graaff Generator, invented by American Physicist Robert Jemison Van de Graaff in 1929 is an electrostatic generator. Electrostatic generators are devices that carry electrostatic charges (either positive or negative) on some metallic object (most likely of spherical shape). When you touch a small Van de Graff generator and switch it on, you and the metallic sphere start acquiring static charge (thanks to a mechanical device that continuously transfers it to the spherical conductor you’re touching). This charge builds up in amount with time and because same kind of charges repel each other, the charges on your hair strands want to get away from the other charges nearby, making your hair stand up and away from the head. They want to escape, they want their own personal space but they can’t go anywhere because you’re surrounded by air. And Reader, air is an insulator which means that it won’t let those charges jump off of your hair and escape. (Until the amount of charge get’s so high that even air starts to break down and lets them in like in a bolt of lightening!)
This charge is the same charge that, when you take your silk shirt or woolen sweater off, makes crackling noises and sometimes you can even see tiny sparks. It’s the same charge that, when you pass a comb through your dry hair, makes the hair stick to the comb. It’s the same annoying charge that when, after walking on a carpet, you touch a doorknob gives you a tiny but “hey-that-hurt” kind of shock. It’s the same notorious charge which makes your laundry in the dryer stick together. It’s also the same charge that can raise the stakes to a whole new “I-shit-you-not-I-am-dangerous” level when a big bad thunder storm rolls into town and threatens a lightening strike. Lightening strikes between a cloud and the ground are made up of charges of one kind trying to reunite with charges of opposite kind on the ground.
Van de Graff generators accumulate huge quantities of this often troublesome charge on themselves because they produce electric forces which in turn can attract (pull in) or repel (push away) other charges. Bigger amount of charge makes for bigger electrostatic forces. This act of pushing away other charges is very helpful for Physicists. They can use such a force to throw some poor charge at other set of charges and break them open! It’s sort of like the game of bowling. Only, in case of bowling, the pins just fall down. But in case of fast moving charged particles, the target tends to break apart and release other tinier particles and massive amounts of energy. It makes for a very interesting field of study called Particle physics.
Van de Graff generators have long been replaced by other charge accelerators (i.e. charge throwers). You may already have heard about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland. It’s the world’s biggest particle collider. The inner workings are quite different from that of a Van de Graaff generator but the basic aim is the same: to accelerate charge particles at very, very high speeds and smash them together.