The flow of electrons through a conductor creates an electric current. By definition, two essential factors facilitate an electric current.
First of all, you will need a flow of electrons, which is done by a potential difference. The next one is a conductor which is a material that allows electrons to flow.
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But why does electricity need a conductor to travel a distance? Why doesn’t it just flow through any material? Let’s review!
How does electricity flow in a conductor?
To understand the need for a conductor, we must first understand how electrons move through a conductor and how they behave in an insulator.
In a conductor, weak electrostatic forces can sway electrons in the outermost layer, also known as an orbit. This means that the nucleus of the atom is not strong enough to keep all the electrons inside the atom.
When we apply an electric potential or EMF (Electromotive force) at the ends of a conductor, the poorly held the electrons break free from the atoms and start to move in the conductor. This flow of electrons creates an electrical current that carries electrical energy from the EMF source.
If we take the case of copper, each copper atom has 29 electrons. The first or innermost layer of the copper atom has 2 electrons.
The second shell has 8 electrons, which is the maximum that the shell can accommodate. The third shell has 18 electrons and the outermost shell has only one electron.
This arrangement makes the electron in the outermost layer very mobile and sensitive to electric fields. This is also the reason why copper is an excellent conductor of electricity.
What is an insulator?
An insulator is the opposite of a conductor where the material doesn’t have a lot of free electrons to move between the two. This happens when the electrons in an atom are firmly held by the nucleus, making them very resistant to the effects of an EMF.
Thus, the conductivity depends mainly on the atom and its characteristics.
How is a resistor different from an insulator?
Resistors find many applications in electrical circuits to control the flow of current. But if the conductors allow the flow of electricity and the insulators block it, what are the resistors for?
Resistors reduce the electric current flowing through a circuit by limiting the flow of current. Unlike an insulator, the resistor does not block the flow of electric current.
It’s just limits the passage of electric current until a certain point. And you can fine tune the resistance level of a resistor because there are different levels for resistors.
What makes metals good conductors of electricity?
As we saw above, the flow of electricity is only possible if there are electrons moving in the material. The outermost shell of an atom is one of the best ways to determine the conductivity of a material.
Metals have an incomplete outer shell. This means that the outer shell of the metal atom has fewer electrons than it can completely fill. So these electrons are free to move in metal simply by applying sufficient electromotive force.
Materials like rubber have an outer shell that is tightly bound in their atoms. So even if you apply a sufficiently large EMF to the material, it would not allow the atoms to flow out.
This is the reason why we use rubber or plastic derivatives to insulate the copper wires.
Generally speaking, materials that have a full orbit or outer shell are good insulators. And materials with less than four outer electrons are excellent conductors.
Metals have less than 4 electrons in their outermost orbits.
How do electrons flow in a conductor?
When we use the term ‘flow’ with electrons, it sometimes leads to a misinterpretation that electrons from one side of the driver will flow to the other, while the driver itself acts like a highway. However, this is not how electrons move in the conductor.
The electron released from an atom will move to the outer shell of the adjacent atom. This movement creates instability within the atom leading to a disproportionate number of electrons and protons.
Therefore, one atom from the outermost shell jumps to another adjacent atom. And that the process keeps repeating.
Therefore, an electron on one side of the driver does not go straight to the other side. Instead, it moves to another atom and passes the electron from the outer shell of that atom to the next.
Does electron flow occur in conductors without EMF?
Yes, even without CEM the valence electrons in a conductor are in a constant state of motion from atom to atom. However, the direction of the electrons is in random order.
Thus, the overall load of the driver is canceled out, therefore zero.
What are the best electrical conductors?
We use copper in most electrical applications. However, the best electrical conductor is Money.
Money has a total of 47 electrons with a valence electron in the outermost shell. The high energy of this electron makes it vulnerable to movement even from a very small electromagnetic field.
This characteristic of silver makes it an excellent driver. However, due to its high price, the use of silver in electrical applications is limited.
Gold is the third most efficient driver. He has 79 electrons with a valence electron in the outermost shell.
The human body is also a good conductor of electricity due to the ions (potassium, sodium, iron, etc.) it contains. These ions move freely in body fluids and make our body sensitive to electrical charges.
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Electricity is undoubtedly an exciting and intriguing phenomenon. However, without conductors, it would not be possible to use this energy as we do today.
Conductors are the bridges for electricity, and they work to keep our devices powered up and ready for use.