Part of the show Peruvian Mummies, Ancient Environments and the Sahara
What you Need
Empty coke can
What to do
1 - Take the polystyrene and rub it on your hair for about one minute.
What may happen
When the polystyrene is placed near to the can, the can moves towards you, you will have to be careful to pull the polystyrene away fast enough once the can starts moving.
Why does it happen?
All materials contain electrons; tiny particles that are part of an atom, when these electrons move we call it electricity. Electrons are negatively charged and the centre (nucleus) of the atom they are part of is positively charged. Positive and negative charges repel themselves and attract each other very strongly so normally there are the same number of each in an object and it isn't charged.
If you touch two materials together sometimes some electrons will get transferred from one material to the other and get lost in it. This will leave both objects charged one positive and one negative. This depends on the material some will tend to gain and others loose electrons. Hair doesn't really mind, rubber likes loosing electrons, and polystyrene likes gaining them.
Although you don't need to rub the two materials together to have this effect, it often helps to increase the area that has been in contact.
To start off the can is uncharged
So when you rub the polystyrene on your head it becomes negatively charged. The can is made of a metal (either alumninium or steel), in metals the electrons can move around easily - they are good conductors - so if you put the negatively charged polystyrene next to the can the electrons will be repelled and move to the far side of the can.
So near to the polystyrene there are lots of positive nuclei which are strongly attracted to the polystyrene and on the far side there are negative electrons