# How might an astronaut in a vacuum create an electrical field sufficient to affect a cloud of particulates?

My protagonist is in a sticky situation: floating in space (fortunately in a spacesuit) and about to be attacked by an alien avatar made from smart matter; tiny specks of dust which share a distributed intelligence and cling together to form various shapes.

She just needs to delay rather than destroy the avatar, and I am thinking that in the same way static electricity attracts dust, perhaps if she could create an electrical field from her suit's power supply she could use this to temporarily disrupt the avatar's form.

The setting is the distant future and this is not hard SF, although I would rather not break any laws of science.

Would this plan work, and if so how could she implement it?

Thanks!

• With a few capacitors and diodes, you can make a huge DC voltage out of a small AC current. Each particle with a small charge is accelerated to one electrode, bounces back after getting the same charge as that electrode, towards the other, and so forth.
– Karl
Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 18:48
• Alternate plot: The miasma prevents her from going any further. She uses EMI from her power pack to attract and coalesce enough particles onto the suit that it will allow her entry. Shunt the charging port to the output using a cable wrapped around yourself as many times as possible. Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 2:52

You can create an electrical charge with rubbing.

Rubbing an object of correct composition (nonconductor) can impart a static charge. Balloons are one well known object for which this is true. Certain socks I own also avidly collect charge while in the dryer. The charged item can then attract other objects, as the balloon in the above images has done. For my socks, it is ambient pet hair.

Earlier in the story have there be some piece of equipment which is always dirty - because of its composition and that of the spacefarers gloves, it tends to accumulate charge and then attract dust; the spacefarers marvel that there is so much dust about. There could be a scene where one of them examines the dust under a microscope, suspecting that it is mostly dandruff from one particular individual - he is correct in his suspicion, but among the flakes he finds something different and very unusual - a defunct microscopic alien mote and harbinger of what is to come.

Your spacefarer is aware that this piece of dirty equipment when charged could attract (albeit defunct) alien motes. Faced with active motes, she charges up this piece of equipment and throws it into the swarm.

More than you asked, but when the above maneuver works and establishes the principle, there is something else they can use on the aliens.

The aged among you might remember using these anti-static guns on photograph records - they are also rubbed by their sleeves and collect charge and pet hair. These nifty tools sap the charge and cause the hair to fall away. A home-brew device like this would be a great weapon against motes which organize themselves and move using electical charges.

• Fantastic! Thanks Willk :) I like the idea of throwing a charged object into it. Also this alien problem is getting out of hand so scaling up the anti-static gun and mounting it on a warship could save the human race. Good job :) Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 19:16