Spinning Match – Table Trick

The science of static electricity and friction makes this matchstick rotate.

When you cautiously balance a matchstick on the rim of a coin that has also been precariously balanced onto another coin, it might sound like rotating the matchstick will cause it all to come tumbling down. That might be the case if you were to use your hands. What if you were to use static electricity to rotate the matchstick? Would that even work? We'll show how this isn't just possible, it's downright cool.

Experiment Materials

  • Clear plastic cup
  • Matchstick
  • Two nickels
  • Balloon
  • Safety glasses
  • Adult supervision


  1. Lay one nickel flat on a table.
  2. Carefully balance the other nickel, vertically, on top of the nickel that is laying flat on the table.
  3. Balance a matchstick on the vertically balanced nickel. It might take you a couple of tries, but you'll get it! Once you have the entire setup complete, it should look like the picture on the right.
  4. Being careful not to bump your balanced apparatus, place the plastic cup over the matchstick and nickels.
  5. Blow up and tie off a balloon.
  6. Rub the balloon against your shirt, hair, or against a rug to generate some static electricity.
  7. Maneuver the balloon around the outside of the cup and watch as the match follows the balloon. Neat!

How Does It Work?

You probably guessed this by now, since you rubbed the balloon against your shirt, hair, or carpet, but this experiment revolves around static electricity. When you rub the balloon on a coarse surface, you give the balloon additional electrons, generating a negative static charge. Meanwhile, the match, delicately balancing inside of the cup, has a neutral charge.
When an object has a negative charge, it will repel the electrons of other objects and attract that object’s protons. When the neutrally charged object is light enough, like the match in this case, the negatively charged object will attract the lightweight object. But try attracting a match while it’s laying on a table… it doesn’t work! You need to reduce the amount of other forces acting on the match for this experiment to work, and that’s why you balance the match on the rim of a nickel. Balancing the match enables less surface area to be directly effected by friction, which enables the match to rotate more freely.