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Electrostatic Deformation of Liquid Surfaces by a Charged Rod and a Van de Graaff Generator
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Authors of physics textbooks frequently use the deflection of a thin, vertically falling water jet by a charged balloon, 1–3 comb, 4–6 or rod 7–9 as a visually appealing and conceptually relevant example of electrostatic attraction. Nevertheless, no attempts are made to explore whether these charged bodies could cause visible deformation of a horizontal water surface. That being so, we were quite surprised when we discovered that a 19th-century French book 10 contained a drawing showing an appreciable deformation of an oil surface caused by a charged rod. When we initially tried to recreate this electrostatics demonstration, we didn't succeed in reproducing the effect with a charged rod. Despite the initial unsuccessful try, we were not discouraged and we modified the demonstration a little bit, finding that it was possible to cause visible deformations of different liquid surfaces by using a Van de Graaff generator, as we will explain later.
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