Welcome to practical physicsPracticle physics - practical activities designed for use in the classroom with 11 to 19 year olds

Demonstration electroscope


This is a model of an historic instrument which can still be used to compare or measure charges.

Apparatus and materials

Retort stand and boss

Perspex (insulating) rod

Brass or aluminium strip, about 20 cm x 1 cm

Metallised foil (e.g. Mylar or Melinex) strip, about 18 cm x 1 cm

Polythene tile

Cloth for rubbing

Electrophorus plate

Power supply, EHT, 0-5 kV (with internal safety resistor)

Health & Safety and Technical notes

Read our standard health & safety guidance


a Clamp a Perspex rod in a boss on a retort stand.

Clamp and rod

b Bend the strip of brass or aluminium sheet as illustrated and fix it over the Perspex rod.

c To one side of the brass, attach the strip of foil with glue.

d To charge the foil to a high potential, use the electrophorus plate as follows. Rub the polythene tile to give it a negative charge. Holding the plate by the insulating handle, touch the plate on the tile. While it is still in contact with the tile, touch it momentarily with a finger, and then remove it from the tile.

e Bring the plate into contact with the top of the model electroscope. This charging process should be repeated several times.

f The plate can also be charged by connecting it to the EHT power supply in series with the 50 MW resistor incorporated in the supply. In this case, the other terminal of the supply should be connected to the retort stand base.

Polystrene tile and insulating handle


Teaching notes

1 This is intended to be a very simple, large-scale introduction to the electroscope. It illustrates how charge can be transferred from one object to another, and how the presence of charge can be identified by the deflection of the metallized foil. 

2 The gold leaf electroscope is a very important piece of apparatus for use in electrostatics experiments. The design is so simple that it is absolutely clear how it works, so there can be no mystery about how it provides the results you are looking for (unlike modern electronic meters).

This experiment was safety-tested in january 2007 

Related guidance


Using an electroscope


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