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What is an Electrostatic Force?

Electrostatic force, also known as Coulomb's force, is a fundamental interaction between electrically charged particles. It's a part of the electromagnetic force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature. This force can be attractive or repulsive, depending on the charges involved: like charges repel each other, while opposite charges attract. The strength of this force is directly proportional to the product of the electrical charges and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them, as described by Coulomb's law. This principle is pivotal in various fields, from material sciences to electronics, influencing how atoms bond and how objects receive and hold charges.

Electrostatic phenomena are not just scientific curiosities; they have practical applications. For instance, electrostatic forces are harnessed in air purifiers to remove particles from the air, which is particularly beneficial for people with allergies or respiratory issues. In the tech world, understanding electrostatics is crucial for designing circuits and preventing damage from static discharge. Despite their invisibility, these forces impact our daily lives, from the cling of clothes after tumbling in a dryer to the shock we sometimes get when touching a doorknob after walking across a carpeted room.

Jason C. Chavis
Jason C. Chavis

Electrostatic force is the phenomenon that results from slow-moving or stationary electrical charges. It is studied in the scientific discipline known as electrostatics by researchers analyzing electromagnetic interaction. Specifically, electrostatic force is the physical reaction that holds together the electromagnetic field created by subatomic particles, such as electrons and protons. In order for electrostatic forces to remain cohesive, these particles need to independently maintain both positive and negative charges and react to each other accordingly. According to the laws of physics, there are four fundamental forces that describe the reactions of particles, one of which is considered electromagnetic force, which results in electrostatic force under certain conditions.

Electrostatic force between electrons and protons is one of the strongest forces in the universe, even more powerful than gravity. A hydrogen atom, which contains only one electron and one proton, has the fundamental force of gravity keeping it together. However, each subatomic particle can develop electrostatic force as well, which becomes even stronger. In physics, the laws state that a magnitude of force must be exerted between the particles that is 1024 stronger than simple gravity. Each atom in the universe in its natural state contains an even amount of protons and electrons, creating a strong presence of electrostatic forces.

Rubbing a balloon against hair forms an electrostatic force between the two objects.
Rubbing a balloon against hair forms an electrostatic force between the two objects.

As two surfaces come in contact with each other, charge exchange occurs, resulting in the development of electrostatic forces. When resistance is present in one of these materials, electrostatic charges are more apparent to the observer. The resistive material retains the electrostatic charge for a longer period of time until the charges become neutralized, such as with a static shock.

Coulomb's law defines the fundamental theories regarding electrostatic force of attraction within the science of electrostatics. It was established in the 1780s by a French physicist named Charles Augustin de Coulomb. He utilized the basic theories of electromagnetism to determine the formulas and equations that defined electromagnetic forces and electrostatics.

One of the most common examples of electrostatic force seen in everyday life occurs when someone opens up a plastic package. Often, this package becomes stuck to one's fingers. This is due to the fact that the package, containing electrically-resistant properties, had rubbed against other surfaces, building up an electrostatic charge. The ancient Greeks were the first to notice this concept when they researched amber. Amber possesses the ability to attract particles when rubbed with a another material.

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Discussion Comments


Per your essay, how does the fundamental force of gravity keep the hydrogen atom together? Happy trails.


The effects of this can occur when lightning strikes, and even though it doesn't happen often, it is wise to do a checkup before you test.

Though the occurrence of this is very rare, when it does happen, you must remember to lie on the ground so you don't get struck, because this is the beginning of a dry storm. A dry storm is more fierce then you can imagine. The lightning is twice as hot and has a greater chance of hitting you.


Is electrostatic force good?


Here only the examples of different situation are given where electrostatic force play the role. But is that is not made clear. In fact, the physical meaning of force is not clear. We know it is there.

Mathematical equations have been devised, lines of force have been defined but what is exactly in those lines is not known.

When one positive is attracting one negative charge what is that matter or wave of matter communicating between them?


There is a very dangerous fad of thinking that electrostatic charges and forces are altogether harmless. The reality is that these static charges can build up enough by the right materials and atomic interactions that serious bodily harm can occur.

Another problem with electrostatic forces is the fact that they are the killer of many types of electrical devices. Unprotected circuit boards and memory chips can be ruined by conducting electrostatic charges.

Manufacturers of special electronic components will often package their products and devices inside of specially designed, anti-static plastic. These packages allow for the safe and undamaged delivery of sensitive electronic goods.


@spreadsheet is right. Understanding what an electrostatic force is can be one of the most difficult concepts to teach to my students as a physics educator. Probably the most simple and basic way of explaining the concept is the phenomenon that occurs when we "shock" people. This very harmless human interaction can be as simple to replicate as rubbing your feet on carpet with only socks on.

Static electrical forces build up between the fabric of the socks and carpet in effect charging the person.


Electrostatic charges are some of the hardest to grasp when learning about them in school. When we think of magnets, those cute and sometimes obnoxious doo-dads on the fridge come to mind and the force of them is somewhat different to the human perception then say an electrostatic force.

Of course most people think of electrical outlets when contemplating such a scientific term and yet again this might be misleading as our alternating current electrical system is far from being statically charged.

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    • Rubbing a balloon against hair forms an electrostatic force between the two objects.
      By: corepics
      Rubbing a balloon against hair forms an electrostatic force between the two objects.