What will happen including the overall charge when there is an equal number of protons and electrons in an object?

To understand electricity, some basic information about atoms is helpful. Atoms are the building blocks of the universe. Everything in the universe is made of atoms—every star, every tree, and every animal. The human body is made of atoms. Air and water are made of atoms, too. Atoms are so small that millions of them would fit on the head of a pin.

Atoms are made of even smaller particles

The center of an atom is called the nucleus. The nucleus is made up of particles called protons and neutrons. Electrons spin around the nucleus in shells. If the nucleus was the size of a tennis ball, the atom would be the size of a sphere about 1,450 feet in diameter, or about the size of one of the largest sports stadiums in the world. Atoms are mostly empty space.

If the naked eye could see an atom, it would look a little like a tiny cluster of balls surrounded by giant invisible bubbles (or shells). The electrons would be on the surface of the bubbles, constantly spinning and moving to stay as far away from each other as possible. Electrons are held in their shells by an electrical force.

The protons and electrons of an atom are attracted to each other. They both carry an electrical charge. Protons have a positive charge (+) and electrons have a negative charge (-). The positive charge of the protons is equal to the negative charge of the electrons. Opposite charges attract each other. An atom is in balance when it has an equal number of protons and electrons. The neutrons carry no charge, and their number can vary.

The number of protons in an atom determines the kind of atom, or element, it is. An element is a substance consisting of one type of atom. The Periodic Table of Elements shows elements with their atomic numbers—the number of protons they have. For example, every atom of hydrogen (H) has one proton and every atom of carbon (C) has six protons.

Electricity is the movement of electrons between atoms

Electrons usually remain a constant distance from the atom's nucleus in precise shells. The shell closest to the nucleus can hold two electrons. The next shell can hold up to eight. The outer shells can hold even more. Some atoms with many protons can have as many as seven shells with electrons in them.

The electrons in the shells closest to the nucleus have a strong force of attraction to the protons. Sometimes, the electrons in an atom's outermost shells do not have a strong force of attraction to the protons. These electrons can be pushed out of their orbits. Applying a force can make them shift from one atom to another. These shifting electrons are electricity.

Static electricity exists in nature

Lightning is a form of electricity. Lightning is electrons moving from one cloud to another or electrons jumping from a cloud to the ground. Have you ever felt a shock when you touched an object after walking across a carpet? A stream of electrons jumped to you from that object. This is called static electricity.

Have you ever made your hair stand straight up by rubbing a balloon on it? If so, you rubbed some electrons off the balloon. The electrons moved into your hair from the balloon. The electrons tried to get far away from each other by moving to the ends of your hair. They pushed against or repelled each other and made your hair move. Just as opposite charges attract each other, like charges repel each other.

Last reviewed: December 17, 2021

Electric Charge – Learn

What is Electric Charge?

Electric charge is understood by considering the structure of an atom. Atoms have a nucleus consisting of positively charged protons and neutral particles called neutrons. Orbiting the nucleus are negatively charged electrons, which are attracted to the positively charged nucleus. With electrostatic forces, like charges repel and unlike charges attract.

How do objects become charged?

Atoms are neutral. This is because in any atom there are equal numbers of electrons and protons. Protons are held tightly to the nucleus but electrons are easier to be removed as they are in a cloud surrounding the nucleus. When an atom loses an electron it develops a positive net charge; when it gains an electron, it develops a negative net charge. When an atom gains or loses an electron it is known as an ion.

How do we measure charge?

The net charge is often referred to as the elementary charge. The letter q is used to represent the amount of charge. The SI unit of charge is the coulomb (C), where one coulomb is the charge on

electrons or protons. Therefore, the charge of a proton (
) is equal to
C and the charge of an electron (
) is
C. The total charge can then be calculated by multiplying the number of particles by their specific charge.

The total charge can be calculated by multiplying the number of elementary particles by their specific charge:

All electrically charged objects produce an electrostatic force on other objects that have an overall net charge. The electrostatic force causes like charges to repel and opposite charges to attract. The magnitude of the electrostatic force can be calculated using Coulomb’s law, which is discussed later.

Example 1:

If a neutral atom has gained an electron, how would we now describe this particle?

This particle is an ion with an overall negative net charge

Example 2:

How many electrons would make up a charge of -2.5C?

Using:

Example 3: What would happen if two positively charged objects were brought close together?

They would exert a repulsive force on each other and tend to move away from each other.

• Atoms are made of extremely tiny particles called protons, neutrons, and electrons.
• Protons and neutrons are in the center of the atom, making up the nucleus.
• Electrons surround the nucleus.
• Protons have a positive charge.
• Electrons have a negative charge.
• The charge on the proton and electron are exactly the same size but opposite.
• Neutrons have no charge.
• Since opposite charges attract, protons and electrons attract each other.

Students will put a static charge on a strip of plastic by pulling it between their fingers. They will see that the plastic is attracted to their fingers. Students will be introduced to the idea that rubbing the strip with their fingers caused electrons to move from their skin to the plastic giving the plastic a negative charge and their skin a positive charge. Through these activities, students will be introduced to some of the characteristics of electrons, protons, and neutrons, which make up atoms.

Objective

Students will be able to explain, in terms of electrons and protons, why a charged object is attracted or repelled by another charged object. They will also be able to explain why a charged object can even be attracted to an uncharged object. Students will also be able to explain that the attraction between positive protons and negative electrons holds an atom together.

Evaluation

Download the student activity sheet, and distribute one per student when specified in the activity. The activity sheet will serve as the “Evaluate” component of each 5-E lesson plan.

Safety

Be sure you and the students wear properly fitting goggles.

Materials for Each Group

• Plastic grocery bag
• Scissors
• Inflated balloon
• Small pieces of paper, confetti-size

Materials for Demonstration

1. Project the image Pencil Zoom.

Students should be familiar with the parts of the atom from Chapter 3 but reviewing the main points is probably a good idea.

Ask students questions such as the following:

What are the three different tiny particles that make up an atom? Protons, neutrons, and electrons. Which of these is in the center of the atom? Protons and neutrons are in the center (nucleus) of the atom. You may want to mention that hydrogen is the only atom that usually has no neutrons. The nucleus of most hydrogen atoms is composed of just 1 proton. A small percentage of hydrogen atoms have 1 or even 2 neutrons. Atoms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons are called isotopes. These will be discussed in Lesson 2. What zooms around the nucleus of an atom? Electrons Which one has a positive charge, a negative charge, and no charge? Proton—positive; electron—negative; neutron—no charge. The charge on the proton and electron are exactly the same size but opposite. The same number of protons and electrons exactly cancel one another in a neutral atom.

Note: The picture shows a simple model of the carbon atom. It illustrates some basic information like the number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus. It also shows that the number of electrons is the same as the number of protons. This model also shows that some electrons can be close to the nucleus and others are further away. One problem with this model is that it suggests that electrons orbit around the nucleus in perfect circles on the same plane, but this is not true. The more widely accepted model shows the electrons as a more 3-dimensional “electron cloud” surrounding the nucleus. Students will be introduced to these ideas in a bit more detail in Lesson 3. But for most of our study of chemistry at the middle school level, the model shown in the illustration will be very useful. Also, for most of our uses of this atom model, the nucleus will be shown as a dot in the center of the atom.

2. Project the animation Protons and Electrons.

Explain to students that two protons repel each other and that two electrons repel each other. But a proton and an electron attract each other. Another way of saying this is that the same or “like” charges repel one another and opposite charges attract one another.

Since opposite charges attract each other, the negatively charged electrons are attracted to the positively charged protons. Tell students that this attraction is what holds the atom together.

Project the animation Hydrogen Atom.

Explain to students that in a hydrogen atom, the negatively charged electron is attracted to the positively charged proton. This attraction is what holds the atom together.

Tell students that hydrogen is the simplest atom. It has only 1 proton, 1 electron, and 0 neutrons. It is the only atom that does not have any neutrons. Explain that this is a simple model that shows an electron going around the nucleus.

Click on the button “Show cloud” and explain to students that this is a different model. It shows the electron in the space surrounding the nucleus that is called an electron cloud or energy level. It is not possible to know the location of an electron but only the region where it is most likely to be. The electron cloud or energy level shows the region surrounding the nucleus where the electron is most likely to be.

Note: Inquisitive students might ask how the positively charged protons are able to stay so close together in the nucleus: Why don’t they repel each other? This is a great question. The answer is well beyond an introduction to chemistry for middle school, but one thing you can say is that there is a force called the “Strong Force,” which holds protons and neutrons together in the nucleus of the atom. This force is much stronger than the force of repulsion of one proton from another.

Another good question: Why doesn’t the electron smash into the proton? If they are attracted to each other, why don’t they just collide? Again, a detailed answer to this question is beyond the scope of middle school chemistry. But a simplified answer has to do with the energy or speed of the electron. As the electron gets closer to the nucleus, its energy and speed increases. It ends up moving in a region surrounding the nucleus at a speed that is great enough to balance the attraction that is pulling it in, so the electron does not crash into the nucleus.

Give each student an activity sheet.

Have students answer questions about the illustration on the activity sheet. Students will record their observations and answer questions about the activity on the activity sheet. The Explain It with Atoms & Molecules and Take It Further sections of the activity sheet will either be completed as a class, in groups, or individually, depending on your instructions.

3. Students can see evidence of the charges of protons and electrons by doing an activity with static electricity.

Note: When two materials are rubbed together in a static electricity activity, one material tends to lose electrons while the other material tends to gain electron. In this activity, human skin tends to lose electrons while the plastic bag, made of polyethylene, tends to gain electrons.

Question to investigate

What makes objects attract or repel each other?

Materials for each group

• Plastic grocery bag
• Scissors

Procedure, part 1

1. Cut 2 strips from a plastic grocery bag so that each is about 2–4 cm wide and about 20 cm long.
2. Hold the plastic strip firmly at one end. Then grasp the plastic strip between the thumb and fingers of your other hand as shown.

3. Quickly pull your top hand up so that the plastic strip runs through your fingers. Do this three or four times.
4. Allow the strip to hang down. Then bring your other hand near it.
5. Write “attract” or “repel” in the chart on the activity sheet to describe what happened.

Expected results

The plastic will be attracted to your hand and move toward it. Students may notice that the plastic is also attracted to their arms and sleeves. Let students know that later in this lesson they will investigate why the plastic strip is also attracted to surfaces that have not been charged (neutral).

Note: If students find that their plastic strip does not move toward their hand, it must not have been charged well enough. Have them try charging their plastic strip by holding it down on their pants or shirt and then quickly pulling it with the other hand. Then they should test to see if the plastic is attracted to their clothes. If not, students should try charging the plastic again.

4. Tell students that the plastic strip and their skin are made of molecules that are made of atoms. Tell students to assume that the plastic and their skin are neutral—that they have the same number of protons as electrons.

Project the image Charged plastic and hand.

Point out that before the students pulled the plastic between their fingers, the number of protons and electrons in each is the same. Then, when students pulled the plastic through their fingers, electrons from their skin got onto the plastic. Since the plastic has more electrons than protons, it has a negative charge. Since their fingers gave up some electrons, their skin now has more protons than electrons so it has a positive charge. The positive skin and the negative plastic attract each other because positive and negative attract.

1. Charge one strip of plastic the same way you did previously.
2. This time, bring the plastic strip toward your desk or chair.

3. Write “attract” or “repel” in the chart.

The plastic moves toward the desk.

Explain to students why the plastic is attracted to the desk. The answer takes a couple of steps, so you can guide students by drawing or projecting a magnified illustration of the plastic and desk.

After pulling the plastic between their fingers, the plastic gains extra electrons and a negative charge. The desk has the same number of protons as electrons and is neutral. When the plastic gets close to the desk, the negatively charged plastic repels electrons on the surface of the desk. This makes the surface of the desk near the plastic slightly positive. The negatively charged plastic is attracted to this positive area, so the plastic moves toward it.

5. Ask students to make a prediction:

• What do you think will happen if you charge two strips of plastic and bring them near each other?

Procedure, part 3

1. Charge two strips of plastic
2. Slowly bring the two strips of plastic near each other.
3. Write “attract” or “repel” in the chart on the activity sheet.

Expected results

The strips will move away or repel each other. Since both strips have extra electrons on them, they each have extra negative charge. Since the same charges repel one another, the strips move away from each other.

What happened when you brought the two pieces of plastic near each other? The ends of the strips moved away from each other. Use what you know about electrons and charges to explain why this happens. Each strip has extra electrons so they are both negatively charged. Because like charges repel, the pieces of plastic repelled each other.
• Inflated balloon
• Small pieces of paper, confetti-size
• Rub a balloon on your hair or clothes.
• Bring the balloon slowly toward small pieces of paper.

The pieces of paper will jump up and stick on the balloon.

What did you observe when the charged balloon was held near the pieces of paper? The paper pieces moved up and stuck on the balloon. Use what you know about electrons, protons, and charges to explain why this happens. When you rub the balloon on your hair or clothes it picks up extra electrons, giving the balloon a negative charge. When you bring the balloon near the paper, the electrons from the balloon repel the electrons in the paper. Since more protons are at the surface of the paper, it has a positive change. The electrons are still on the paper, just not at the surface, so overall the paper is neutral. Opposites attract, so the paper moves up toward the balloon.

Show the simulation Balloons and Static Electricity from the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Physics Education Technology site.

In the simulation, check the boxes “show all charges” and “Wall”. Uncheck everything else.

In this simulation, you can rub the balloon a little bit on the sweater and see that some of the electrons from the sweater move onto the balloon. This gives the balloon a negative charge. Since the sweater lost some electrons, it has more protons than electrons, so it has a positive charge. If you move the balloon toward the sweater, it will be attracted. This is like moving the charged plastic strip toward the cloth it was rubbed on.

You can also move the balloon toward the wall. The excess negative charge on the balloon repels negative charge on the surface of the wall. This leaves more positive charge on the surface of the wall. The negatively charged balloon is attracted to the positive area on the wall. This is like moving the charged plastic strip toward the finger.

6. Either do the following demonstration or show the video Balloon and Water.

Procedure

1. Rub a balloon on your shirt or pants to give it a static charge.
2. Turn on the faucet so that there is a very thin stream of water.
3. Slowly bring the charged part of the balloon close to the stream of water.

Expected results

The stream of water should bend as it is attracted to the balloon.