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24.009 In an electrical conductor, electrons can easily travel from the outermost shell in one atom to the outermost shell in a nearby atom

 

Stan Gibilisco
Electricity DeMYSTiFieD, 2012
Pages 29-31, in an electrical conductor, electrons can easily travel from the outermost shell in one atom to the outermost shell in a nearby atom

 

Current

When charged particles move through a physical medium, across a gap, or across a barrier, we get an electric current. Usually the current-carrying particles, known as charge carriers, are electrons. However, any moving charged object, such as a proton, an atomic nucleus, or an "electrified" dust grain, gives rise to an electric current.

 

Conductors

In some materials, electrons can move easily from one atomic nucleus to another. In other materials, the electrons can move, but only with some difficulty. In still other substances, we’ll find it almost impossible to get electrons to move among atomic nuclei. Scientists and engineers define an electrical conductor as a substance in which the electrons can move easily, so we don’t have any trouble producing an electric current.

 

2-6 Electrons travel

Figure 2-6 In an electrical conductor, electrons can easily travel from the outermost shell in one atom to the outermost shell in a nearby atom.

 

Pure elemental silver constitutes the best known electrical conductor among common materials at room temperature. Copper and aluminium are also excellent electrical conductors. Iron, steel, and most other metals constitute fair to good conductors of electricity. Some liquids are good conductors; pure elemental mercury (sometimes called "quicksilver") offers a representative (although toxic) example. Salt water is a fair conductor, but pure distilled water does not conduct very well. Gases, in general, make poor electrical conductors because the atoms or molecules are too far apart to allow a free exchange of electrons.

Figure 2-6 shows a situation where an electron (solid black dot) starts in orbit around a particular atom and ends up in orbit around another nearby atom. The electrons always orbit atomic nuclei at a specific average distance that takes the form of a sphere called a shell. (In Fig. 2-6, the thin dashed circles represent cross sections of electron shells.) When we observe a significant electrical current, the electron-movement process of Fig. 2-6 occurs among countless atoms, giving the appearance of a continuous current "stream."

 

Still Struggling

The individual electrons in a conductor move somewhat like, but not exactly like, the molecules of water through a garden hose. If we’re willing to accept a certain amount of oversimplification, we can represent a good electrical conductor as a large-diameter hose, and a poor conductor as a small-diameter hose. The amount of current corresponds to the volume of water (such as a cubic centimetre) flowing through the hose past any particular point per unit of time (such as one second).

 

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