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Electrostatics is a part of physics is that the study and analysis of electricity, its properties and its applications. Electrostatics was discovered when an ancient Greek philosopher named Thales. In 600 B.C., Thales learned that when he rubbed amber with fur, it would start to attract other lightweight objects such as feathers and dust which is now known as a process called triboelectrification. This is also how we got the word electricity, which comes from the Greek word, elektron, which means amber. Thales, who is now known as one of the Seven Wise Men, is believed to be the first person to ever experiment with electrostatics. After the death of Thales, no further experiments were conducted dealing with electrostatics until the 17th century when a man by the name of William Gilbert continued Thales’s research. He studied magnetism and static electricity. Gilbert repeated the experiment by Thales with rubbing and charging objects using friction.
He later invented the word “electric” to label the forces at work for whenever an object repelled or attracted the other one. He discovered that when objects rubbed, the act removed a fluid (humour) from one of the objects and it also left an atmosphere (effluvium) around the object. The thought that electricity could also exist as a fluid continued throughout the 18th century. In 1729, there was an English scientist named Stephen Grey who revealed that some materials, like milk, did not produce electricity. Grey’s reasoning for this is that the fluid that Gilbert describes can move through objects or be hampered from moving. This led scientist to produce jars to hold the fluid so that it could be observed and learn its effects. This jar was created by two Dutch men. Their names were Ewald von Kleist and Pieter van Musschenbroek.
They named the invention the Leyden jar which is essentially a jar filled with water and a nail capable of storing an electrical charge inside of it. With just the first use of the jar, Musschenbroek got a major shock from it. As the late 1700’s came around, more and more people were beginning to understand how electricity worked. In 1752, Benjamin Franklin performed his world renowned kite experiment which proved his hypothesis that lightning was electrical in nature. Later on, he also had a theory that electricity had negative and positive elements that flowed from positive to negative. This led way for French scientist, Charles Augustin de Coulomb to perform multiple experiments in order to determine the variables that were having an effect on an electrical force. His discoveries and work brought about Coulomb’s Law.
The law states, “Like charges repel and opposite charges attract, with a force proportional to the product of the charges and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.” Coulomb’s law basically describes the force between two charged particles. In the formula, , F is the force between the particles, qa and qb are the charges of particles a and b. The separation between the particles is r, and k is a constant, 8.99×109 (Nm2/C2). The force is attractive, when F is negative, hence when the charges have opposite sign. Opposites attract – like charges repel. With this law, it was now possible to calculate the electrostatic force between two charged objects.