How Van de Graaff Generators Work

John Zavisa and his son experiencing a close encounter with a Van de Graaff generator!

Most of us have seen the device, known as a Van de Graaff generator, that makes your hair stand on end. The device looks like a big aluminum ball mounted on a pedestal, and you can see its effect in the accompanying image.

Have you ever wondered what this device is, how it works, why it was invented or how you might build one yourself? Surely it wasn't invented to make people's hair stand on end ... Or have you ever shuffled your feet across the carpet on a dry winter day and gotten the shock of your life when you touched something metal? Have you ever wondered about static electricity and static cling?


If any of these questions have ever crossed your mind, then get ready for a great read. In this edition of HowStuffWorks, we'll discuss Van de Graaff generators and static electricity in general. You'll even learn how to build your own Van de Graaff generator!