Ask a Physicist Answers
I built a sand art box for performing sand art but I have a problem. The sand I use keeps bouncing around on the glass as opposed to being pencil thin. How or what kind of sand can I use to remedy that?
I love sand performance/animation/panting/drawing (it goes by many names). A few years ago I saw it on stage and was totally captivated.
For those who aren’t familiar with the art, sand performance involves drawing images (usually with the fingers) on a piece of glass covered in a thin layer of sand, which is lit from underneath. Just watch the first minute of Kseniya Simonova (the 2009 winner of Ukraine’s Got Talent) performing and you will get the idea.
When two objects are rubbed together, such a piece of glass and a grain of sand, one is left with a positive charge and one with a negative charge. In sand performance you are dealing with lots of grains of sand rubbing against the glass and each other. This creates static electricity, the buildup of charge on the objects.
Since like charges repel and opposites attract, each charged grain experiences forces from the charged objects nearby. If the net force it feels in one direction is strong enough, the grain will move in that direction. These forces cause a lot of the random bouncing that you are seeing.
To minimize the buildup of charge, try changing the surface that you are drawing on. This is likely to have a bigger effect than changing the type of sand. If you are using Plexiglas then switch to glass, as Plexiglas is great at building up charge. Also, the static electricity problem will be worse if you are in a dry climate, so try putting a humidifier in the room. The water in the air slows the buildup of static electricity.
Society of Physics Students (SPS) Program Coordinator
American Institute of Physics
MS in Physics from the University of Wisconsin - Madison
John Lucyk from Longwood, Florida