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As early as 600 B.C. Thales one of ‘seven wise men’ of ancient Greece observed that amber stone, when rubbed with fur, attracts small pieces of fibrous materials and bits of paper and straw. In the beginning of the 17th century, Sir William Gilbert announced that many substances exhibit this property of attraction like amber when they are rubbed with suitable substances. He called this effect electric as the Greek name of amber was ‘electron’. It is now well established that all the substances when rubbed suitably become electrified and that amber is just one of a number of substances which show the effect more strongly. It should be noted that both rubber and the rubbed will be electrified simultaneously. They are said to have acquired ‘electric charges’. Electrification of bodies through friction is called ‘frictional electricity’.

Electrostatic induction:

Polarization of charges in a body when a charged body is present near that is called electrostatic induction. Thus the bodies are charged by induction without touching them. Due to electrostatic induction the nearer side of the body acquires the opposite charge and the farther side a similar charge.

Electrostatic induction is explained on electron theory of matter. A neutral body contains an equal amount of positive and negative charges. Suppose, a positively charged glass rod is brought near an uncharged body, it attracts the negatively charged electrons in the body and repels the positively charged nuclei in the atoms. Electrons are lighter and they move towards the glass rod but the positive nuclei do not move because they are massive. Due to the drift of the electrons, the end nearer to the glass rod acquires negative polarity and the farther end acquires positive polarity due to the loss of negative charges.

Electron theory of charges

All substances are made up of atoms and molecules. Each atom contains a positively charged nucleus. The nucleus is positively charged due to the presence of positively charged particles called protons in it. Around it are negatively charged particles called electrons revolve in close orbits. The charges of protons and electrons are equal and opposite. In a neutral atom, the number of protons and the number of electrons are equal.

A proton is 1837 times heavier than an electron. Hence it cannot be transferred from one body to another body, but electrons being lighter can easily be transferred from one body to another body. If a neutral body acquires a electrons artificially, it becomes negatively charged and if a neutral body looses electrons, it becomes positively charged.

Conservation of energy

From the above it can be concluded that by friction, charges cannot be created. They can only be separated. This leads to the law of Conservation of Energy which is a fundamental law of nature. The law states that charges can neither be created nor destroyed.

The force of attraction or repulsion between two charges was first measured by Coulomb a French scientist.

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