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by Chris Johnson
We use electricity everyday even though we cannot see or touch it. Most items in our houses, schools, and offices are powered by electricity, such as televisions, computers, phones, lamps, microwave ovens, kettles, heaters, fans, video game systems, and plenty more. So what exactly is electricity? Electricity is a form of energy that is caused by microscopic charged particles. It helps to power machines, just as we use food to power our bodies. To understand how electricity works, we first need to learn about these tiny particles.
Every single thing in the world, from books to animals, is made up of millions of atoms. They are the smallest possible unit that something can be made from. Atoms contain even tinier particles: protons, neutrons, and electrons. The electrons and protons each have a charge. The protons are always positively charged, while electrons hold a negative charge. Neutrons are completely neutral and have no charge. Sometimes electrons leave the atom and stick to another atom. When this happens, the electrons create a small amount of electricity. If we were to take a piece of copper and spin it between two magnets, electrons from one magnet would move through the copper and over to the other magnet. This means that we have created electricity!
Of course, we first need another form of energy to help us turn the piece of copper. Imagine how much energy would be needed to create electricity for an entire town! To provide this mechanical energy, we can use sources such as fossil fuels, coal, or nuclear energy. A few better options include solar power or wind energy. In the U.S. most of our energy is powered by coal, then nuclear energy, natural gas, and finally hydropower.
It is important to note that electricity can also be caused when protons flow away from an atom. In some cases, protons as well as electrons might flow out. Even though protons and electrons have opposite charges, they can also have equal amounts of strength. While electrons can flow easily, protons cannot flow through solid metals. Think back to the spinning piece of copper between the two magnets. As the copper spins, the electrons within it move while the protons stay in place. However, metal is not the only material that can conduct electricity. Water as well as objects that contain water are excellent conductors. Since humans are made up of approximately 70% water, electricity can flow very easily through our bodies.
The flowing electricity that we have discussed so far is known as current electricity. But what happens when it does not flow? When electricity stays in one spot, it is known as static electricity. Most of us have encountered static electricity in our daily lives. For example, have you ever walked across a carpet and then touched a person or animal and felt a small shock? That is a perfect example of static electricity! Static electricity tends to stick in a place rather than flow easily.
Try to imagine our lives without electricity today. It might be like the older days when people used candles instead of light bulbs and wrote letters instead of sending a text message! Just about everything would come to a standstill. Did you know that electricity was actually only discovered approximately a hundred years ago? An inventor named Benjamin Franklin had been experimenting with electrical phenomena. He carried out some rather dangerous experiments to prove that electricity really did exist. One of the most famous ones included flying a kite outdoors in the middle of a thunderstorm! Since electricity can pass through humans, Ben Franklin could have very easily been electrocuted. However, with that experiment, he proved that the lightning that we see in the sky is actually electricity. Since Franklinís important experiments, countless other scientists, inventors, and researchers have worked hard to learn more about electricity and how it can be used. Explore the activities, experiments, and games below to find out more for yourself.
Written by Chris Johnson
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