University of Virginia
Physics Department

Neon Bulbs and Motion of Charge

A Physical Science Activity

Student Activity



Procedure to make light shield:

Make a light shield for the neon bulb. It will be easier to see what is happening inside the bulb with a white backing made out of straw. Note: The bulb can also be taped to a white or a black piece of paper.

  1. Cut about a four cm length of straw. Cut away half of it for about one cm.
  2. Cut slits about a half cm up the straw.
  3. Bend the leads of the neon bulb out at right angles and slide the neon bulb into the cut away part of the straw, leads first, so that you can see both electrodes of the bulb and the leads stick out from the slits in the straw.



Investigating charge transfer with the neon bulb.

To use the neon bulb, hold one lead in your hand and touch the other lead to a charged object while watching the electrodes. Try the following tests: (NEVER STICK A WIRE INTO AN 110-V ELECTRICAL SOCKET!):


Data Sheet


  1. Why does the bulb light in each of those tests?

  2. For each test, tell which object, your hand or the charged object, was losing electrons. You should be able to determine this by observing which electrode flashed.

  3. When you rub your feet on the floor what is happening?