Fundamental Particle Error

February 1st, 2010 by Chris

As seen on actual ESD[1] mandatory training material (emphasis mine):

“Static electricity is a simple form of electrical energy. Every time you walk across a carpet, touch a doorknob, and get a spark it’s because you were splitting electrons. When you move, you generate an excess of either positive or negative charges on your body. Upon touching something conductive, the excess electrons are trying to find an electron of the opposite charge in order to neutralize themselves. So, an imbalance in electrons creates a difference in potential, which may cause an ESD event that may cause damage to circuitry.”

This is so fundamentally wrong it just hurts my brain. First off, in the Standard Model of elementary particles, electrons are indivisible. Even if you could split them, doing so by casually walking across a carpet would result in a significant release of energy. (Note, the annihilation of a single electron would be essentially unnoticeable from an energy release perspective, but if it happened as easily as simply walking across a carpet, we would have serious problems.) The amount of charge one can feel dissipating on a doorknob is on the order of 10^18 electrons. If they were really combining with “electrons of the opposite charge” (aka positrons… or antimatter electrons) this would result in a significant antimatter explosion. Something on the order of 100-200 kilojoules. Enough to heat about 40 kilograms of water one degree. Or for the 10 grams in the tip of your finger… pretty much vaporization. (Somebody please check my math on that.) Regardless… ouch.

I sent a correction. I’ll be interested to see how well received it is.

  1. That’s ElectroStatic Discharge for you non-technical acronym types. []

4 Responses to “Fundamental Particle Error”

  1. John Says:

    Wow. I picture a Star Trek episode:

    Wes Crusher: “Captain, there is an invisible forcefield preventing our escape. It appears to be composed of electrons!”

    Captain (Sir) Picard: “Number One, options.”

    Number One – speaking into the ship intercom: “Everyone on the Ledo deck take your shoes off and walk across the carpets in your socks. This will split atoms and create positrons to neutralize the opposing field. It will also create an alternate universe and cause whales to come back to life.”

    Cut to credits.

  2. Chris Says:

    John: You can go experience this abuse of physics for yourself at a certain sensible online learning resource near you.

  3. Bill Ruhsam Says:

    I don’t know about you, by *my* standard model has electrons being split by very tiny gnomes with cleavers which live all around us (and also cause Toyota accelerators to stick).

  4. Chris Says:

    I hate gnomes.