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What is Electricity?

We all know how electricity works; you turn on the switch and the light comes on. We often take for granted what is actually happening when we flip that switch. We know that current is flowing through a light bulb and that inside that light bulb is a filament that glows when the current passes through. We also know that if we unscrew that light bulb, we break the circuit and the bulb will cease to light. We are even aware that we can buy many different wattage bulbs and these bulbs use different amounts of energy and produce varying amounts of light. Finally, each of us has had the fun experience of putting too many lights or appliances on a circuit in our home and blown a fuse or tripped a circuit breaker. All of these things prove what is known as Basic Electrical Theory. Over the next several blog posts, we’re going to break this theory down into several small pieces to give you a better understanding of how electricity works. More importantly, you will understand how the safety systems work to keep you and your family safe. So now, the big question… What is electricity? atoms Well, all matter is made up of molecules, all molecules are made of atoms, and all atoms are made of protons, electrons, and neutrons. Are you getting a flashback to middle school science class? Protons have a positive charge and hang out in the atom’s nucleus with the neutral neutrons. Electrons circle around the nucleus in different shells and they have a negative charge. Some electrons on the outer most shell are loosely held and are able to flow to other atoms. These ‘free electrons’ are what creates an electrical current. All materials fall under 3 categories: conductors, semiconductors, conductorsand insulators. Conductors have many free electrons, insulators have very few or none at all, and semiconductors fall between the two. Metals, such as copper, typify conductors while most non-metallic solids are said to be good insulators such as rubber. When free electrons stop moving at random and start moving in a particular direction or speed electric current is made. If we want electrons to flow in a certain direction we must provide a path; a.k.a. a wire. When we connect those wires in a continuous loop we with a power source and outsource (ex. light bulb) we create a circuit. An electric circuit is a pathway in which electrons flow. A closed circuit allows them to flow and an open circuit does not. Think about a light switch- when it’s flipped on it’s closing the circuit and allowing the energy to flow to the bulb. circuit So now you know the basics of electricity; instead of just flipping a switch and watching the light appear, we know what’s happening at a microscopic level! Stayed tuned for the next few weeks when we explain volts, amps, resistance, safety, AC vs DC power and more! As always, if you have any questions feel free to contact us.