Van de Graaff Generator

Brian M

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A Van de Graaff generator is a device that releases charges that are built up over time in the generator. A Van de Graaff machine is used in the research in nuclear physics.

A Van de Graaff generator will make your hair stick up only if you are insulated from the ground. An example of being insulated from the ground is standing on a wooden box. The first person to build a Van de Graaff generator was Robert Jemison Van de Graaff. He built the first Van de Graaff generator in 1931. His invention was built from a suggestion by Lord Kelvin.

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The metal sphere on the Van de Graaff generator is a form of a conductor. This is because the metal sphere conducts electricity that can jump out of the metal sphere and into your finger, close by objects or be grounded.


The pulley on the Van de Graaff generator is used to propel the electrons closer or further away from the metal sphere. Essentially the pulley is used to transfer electrons throughout the Van de Graaff generator.

The reason that there is an insulated column in the Van de Graaff generator is because this prevents electricity from jumping from the column to a person or object. The insulated column adds safety to the Van de Graaff generator.


The belt is used to transport the electrons from the bottom of the Van de Graaff generator to the top of the Van de Graaff generator. The belt connects one brush to the another. The belt is usually long so the electricity does not jump from the brush on the bottom to the brush on the top. The material that can be used to make the belt is Surgical tubing. This works because surgical tubing is a conductor this allows the electrons to flow.

The Brushes are used to create the charge that allows the Van de Graaff generator to work. This works successfully because the belt rubs against the brush on the bottom of the Van de Graaff generator, just like rubbing your socks on a carpet. Once the charge is created from the rubbing the belt carries the charge from the bottom brush to the top brush. The top brush then sends the charge to the metal sphere. The material that can be used to make the brushes is braided grounding straps.

The motor in the Van de Graaff generator is used to cycle the belt in a loop through the brushes. This is effective because it allows the Van de Graaff generator to keep building up its charge until it releases it upon the closest object.

The insulated base on the Van de Graaff generator is a form of an insulator. The reason that there is an insulated base on the Van de Graaff generator is so that the electricity that is produced does not go out the bottom and give someone or something a charge. The importance of the insulated base is safety.

When using a Van de Graaff generator you have to be careful. If you touch the Van de Graaff generator standing on the floor there is a good chance you will get a shock. If you touch the Van de Graaff generator while standing on a wooden box for example, the charge will go through you. Wood is not a good conductor, wood is an insulator. When you are standing on the wooden box you are insulated from the ground. This prevents you from getting electrocuted. You do not have to be standing on a wooden box, you just have to be standing on an insulator. A plastic box will work just as well.
After you touch a Van de Graaff generator you might be wondering why your hair sticks up. Your hair sticks up because when the electrons go through your body some electrons from your hair follow into the ground. This means your hair is now positively charged. This means that the protons want to get away from each other as quick as possible. This has the same principal as a electroscope that is negatively or positively charged. The leafs will be spread appart.
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To get the best results using a Van de Graaff generator you need to have light (in weight) blond hair. Blond hair is a lighter type of hair compared to brown hair.
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When using a Van de Graaff generator one of the worst types of hair to have is short brown hair.
Mythbusters Van de Graaff generator

In this Mythbusters Van de Graaff generator video you may have noticed that when they showed the animated diagram they showed protons moving. This is a flaw in the video. Electrons are the particles that should have been moving.