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Name: Beverly
Status: Student
Grade: 6-8
Location: CA
Country: United States
Date: Spring 2010


Question:
My child's class did a science project. Each child rubbed a balloon on their hair. Then they took the balloon and they held it over a tin can (coke). The can moved as the balloon was moved back and forth over the can. Now, when the four African American did the same thing, the can would not move. Why? Please point us in the right direction in locating the information. We have search the Internet and gone to the Library.



Replies:
Admittedly, I do not know. However, there are some possibilities, and some laws of nature that have to be obeyed. The balloon will hold a charge, so the failure to hold a charge means that Caucasian have some "factor" the African American children -- or the opposite. This is a complicated question. For example, if the African American use a shampoo, and/or hair styling formula, that is more conductive, the observed result would occur. What about different brands of combs and brushes as well as shampoo? Is the clothing of the two groups is different, one may dissipate charge more quickly.

As happens in science, you have an observation that defies explanation because the observation gives an unexpected result. That means you must apply "the scientific method" to identify the important parameters. You have the makings of a super project. For example: Was your African American sample representative? Was your Caucasian sample representative? How long before your class did your class shower? (That would "ground" any static charge on the hair.) Make sure that exchanging soda cans has no effect because if there is an effect maybe it is the cans that need investigation, not the students.

The question you pose is difficult. But studying it could be a very fruitful project.

Vince Calder



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