Franklin was mystified by the interplay of electricity and the charged and uncharged objects. Decades later, an English physicist and chemist named Michael Faraday made other pertinent observations -- namely, he realized that an electrical conductor (such as a metal cage), when charged, exhibited that charge only on its surface.
Faraday reaffirmed this observation by lining a room with metal foil and then charging the foil with the use of an electrostatic generator.
This concept has all sorts of amazing applications, but here's one that's relevant to anyone who's ever been in an airplane.
Franklin, of course, spent part of his illustrious career flying kites in thunderstorms in attempts to attract lightning and thus was already somewhat acquainted with the vagaries and concepts of electricity.


He electrified a silver pint can and lowered an uncharged cork ball attached to a non-conductive silk thread into it. He placed an electroscope (a device that detects electrical charges) inside the room, and, as he anticipated, the scope indicated that there was no charge within the room. In this test, he basically duplicated Franklin's idea by lowering a charged brass ball into a metal cup. He lowered the ball until it touched the bottom of the can and observed that the ball wasn't attracted to the interior sides of the can. This isn't a rare occurrence -- it actually happens regularly, yet the plane and its passengers aren't affected.


Yet when Franklin withdrew the cork ball and dangled it near the electrified can's exterior, the ball was immediately drawn to the can's surface. The charge from the lightning can pass harmlessly over the surface of the plane without damaging the equipment or people inside.




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