What is Electricity?

A blinding flash from the heavens, the light from an incandescent bulb, and the painful spark from a doorknob all stem from the same phenomenon: electricity.

Matter consists of three types of subatomic particles relevant to basic understanding. Protons in the nucleus of an atom have a positive charge. Neutrons, also in the nucleus, have no charge. Orbiting this group in layers are electrons, which have a negative charge. The most fundamental fact about electricity is that opposite charges attract. Like charges repel. Protons are only able to stay together because of the strong nuclear attractive force. They remain stationary while electrons can move more freely. Another fundamental fact is that matter tends toward a net charge of zero: equal numbers of protons and electrons.

One definition, therefore, is the movement of electrons along a set path. A wire made of copper consists of copper atoms in a relatively straight line. An electron striking one atom repels an electron, which does the same to the next in the chain, and so on. Metals, because of the structure of their electron orbitals, are some of the most conductive materials there are.

Electrons don't move on their own. A force has to act on them to induce movement, which is where the electromagnetic field comes into play. Any charged particle generates an electric field that either pushes or pulls other charged matter.

Remember that we mentioned electrons have to have a fixed path through which to flow, also called a circuit. A circuit consists of at least four parts: the power source, such as a generator or a battery; the load, which is the device through which current flows; the connecting medium, which is usually copper or aluminum wire; and the switch, which opens or closes the circuit. Only a closed circuit can carry current.

So what is electricity? It’s just a form of moving energy. Our jobs as electricians is to make sure that that energy keeps flowing in and out of our customers’ homes and businesses. It is interesting work that results in a lucrative career. Contact your nearest IEC chapter today and find out more!

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