Human static electricity generators: Can a person’s body generate static electricity?
By Andy Kaiser
Article ID: 125
Is your body a static electricity generator? Do you produce static electricity, shocking everything you touch? Do watches, computers and other electronics behave differently for you than for other people? Is every handshake a shocking experience?
It’s understandable this super-power can be frustrating, perhaps dangerous. It’s at least a major inconvenience. However, before you assume your body can generate static electricity using methods unexplainable and unknown to science, you should first look at your environment. Why? Static electricity is everywhere. And under the right conditions, it’s easy to generate.
A case study is reported in The Daily Mall about Mavis Price, the “super-charged grandmother whose touch BLOWS UP kettles”. As we read the story, we find the author embellished the facts a bit, beginning with the title itself. But no matter, let’s examine the story as presented:
“Mavis Price, since the 1950s, has had the unusual ability to generate electricity in her body. Her first experience with this ability began, in her words, when she “plugged in a television set and ended up blowing up the television and flying across the room.”
Her static electricity generation symptoms include:
She can’t use a computer, as her static-creating ability interferes with them. As she says in the article:
“I went on an IT course, but it was a nightmare because every time I touched the computer it would either freeze or shut down.”
Her household appliances have a very short lifespan. As the article says:
“She estimates she has destroyed 15 kettles in the last few years. Housework has also become a problem, with 20 irons and ten vacuum cleaners biting the dust after falling foul of her apparently supercharged touch.”
The symptoms aren’t confined only to her house. The article gives several examples of her being outside of home and experiencing shocks and higher-than-usual static electricity buildup. The “facts” are either largely subjective or unverifiable, but it’s clear Ms. Price does have problems with static electricity.
How to generate static electricity
How does a human body generate static electricity? There are many factors increasing static electricity generation, including:
- Wearing certain clothing (including shirts, jackets, pants and shoes). Wool, rubber, fleece, vinyl and synthetic materials increase the effect.
- Having a house without grounded outlets, or having a house with bad wiring
- Walking a certain way. Shuffling and dragging one’s feet will increase electrostatic buildup.
- The humidity of where one lives. The lower the humidity, the better the conditions are for static generation.
- As well as general humidity, having unusually dry skin may increase the ability to store static electricity.
- Most any time an object moves against another object. The object types and surrounding environment will determine how much static electricity is generated. As anyone with a balloon knows, it’s very easy to do, as in these simple science lab experiments involving static electricity.
Testing people for static electricity generation and dispersal
Let’s assume the electrostatic generation ability is true as reported. Or at least, assume the symptoms are true, and that Mavis Price generates more static electricity than a normal person.
This is the fun part. We get to test.
1) Get a multimeter. This will allow us to not only measure the static buildup in her body, but also measure the “zap” when she touches a grounded piece of metal. It would be interesting to see if the measurement is truly beyond any normal person’s ability to generate static electricity, or if another person in the same conditions can produce the same measurements.
2) Strip Ms. Price naked. …Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme, and probably not very appreciated by Ms. Price herself. However, clothing greatly contributes to static electricity buildup. Particularly footwear. If you’re generating static electricity and you’re walking around in woolen slippers on a thick shag carpet, don’t be surprised. Now, take off the slippers. Walk around on a hardwood floor in bare feet. Examine the clothing as well as the shoes: is wool, fleece or synthetic material being worn? Remove those and test again. Or, if walking around unclothed isn’t acceptable, wear cotton instead.
3) Examine how you walk: When you walk, do your legs (and clothing) rub together? Are you shuffling your feet? Both methods will increase static buildup.
4) Measure the humidity: the drier it is, the more likely you’ll have problems with static electricity. Install a humidifier. And crank it up. Increase the humidity in the air and see if the symptoms still persist.
5) Examine the house electrical wiring. I’ve saved this for last, but I think it’s definitely a factor here. While some combination of the above reasons contribute to the “human static generator”, we should focus particular attention on the house wiring. I say this because:
She apparently has destroyed dozens of irons, kettles and vacuum cleaners. Such devices are pretty simple and robust, and should not be effected by static electricity. Yet they’ve all been plugged into her house wiring.
The article insinuates she’s lived in the house for a very long time. The wiring is probably old, and in need of repair or not grounded. Either issue could lead to small appliances (including computers) having short lifespans.
It’s probable her house has electrical problems. She also probably lives in a dry environment and wears clothing or shuffles her feet excessively when she walks, contributing to static buildup. A change in environment and behavior are in order, as well as a call to an electrician. It’s telling when the article has quotes like this:
“I am just an electrifying person really, who seems to build up an unusual amount of static,” she said. “People have suggested going to the doctor, but I don’t know what they would be able to do.”
This is a refusal to look critically at a problem, and an assumption that an untested pseudo-scientific explanation is the answer. The results are a lifetime of damaged electrical equipment and painful constant shocks, all without any effort made to stop them or find out the cause.
As for Ms. Price, a call to a doctor may not be the first step. It would be better to speed-dial an electrician. Ms. Price says:
“No one has ever been able to offer me an explanation to why this happens to me.”
Explanations in this case are easy, but it seems Ms. Price has no motivation to find the answer.