What is electricity?

Olivia H. 2012

Electricity is what we use every day to turn on our lights, make our breakfast, drive to school and much more. But what is it and how does it work?

What is it?

Electricity is a form of energy resulting from the existence of charged particles such as electrons and protons either statically as an accumulation of charge or dynamically as a current. All matter including electricity is made up of atoms. There are different parts of the atom that have and make electricity. All atoms have a center, called a nucleus. The nucleus contains positively charged particles called protons and uncharged particles called neutrons. The nucleus of an atom is surrounded by negatively charged particles called electrons. To have electricity the positively charged partial in the atom is very small and requires millions of atoms to make the slightest bit of electricity. This is because about 10 million atoms lined up in a row is only (0.4 inch) 1 centimeter. In each atom about half of it consists of positively charged partials so it takes a lot of atoms electricity and energy to make or do something.
Figure 1-This is a picture of an atom with its nucleus and Electrons

How does it work?

Electricity is able to move its charges and is also able to move electric charges into a form of energy. For example, when the electric current is moving through a piece of wire, the wire gets hot. The higher the resistance of the wire the hotter it gets. If the wire gets hot enough, it is able to produce light. This is how a light bulb produces light. Before the 20th century, scientists had discovered the most important role that the electrons in electricity play. They had to design a direction of the current flow. The found the convention that is flows from the point of a positive charge to one of the negative charges. In fact the negative charges flow the opposite way of the positive charges around the circuit. But, the convention about the direction of an electric current has been retained. Once an atom or molecule is left without an electron or electrons, it is left with a positive charge called an ion. Ions can also be conductors of electric currents. To measure the electric currents that are being used you can use a galvanometer. The galvanometer is used to measure the amount of electric moving through the circuit.

The Experiment

Lightning is the biggest form of natural electricity. Inside the cloud massive heating
and cooling of air masses produce violent activity. Rain falls, air currents rise and water droplets freeze. Various droplets of water in the cloud become charged with positive electricity. These are carried to the upper part of the cloud by air currents and form a positively charged center. The ice crystals that are formed are negatively charged. Because of their weight they move two the bottom of the cloud and form a negatively charged center at the bottom of the cloud. To balance this negative charge the positively charges on the ground are concentrated just below the cloud. This is how lightning is formed. One of the most famous experiments was done with lightning by William Franklin in 1752. Franklin realized that lightning must be some kind of discharge coming from the clouds. The two went to a field during a thunderstorm and flew a kite in the air. It was struck by lightning and the electricity moved down the wet string and traveled to the metal key at the bottom and there was visible spark which proved that lightning was a form of electricity. Soon other scientist started testing with electricity and agreed with Franklin and his discovery.

Electrons experiment-
Lightning science OH diargram thing.jpg
Figure 2-This is how positive and negative charges work together to make lightning.

Something easier that you can test with electricity is called snap, crackle, pop. Some things you will need are: A clear day, a day when thunderstorms are approaching, an AM radio, paper and pencil, and a watch or a clock. Lightning can strike up to 20 miles in front of a thunderstorm and can move through an area up to 75 miles per hour. Water droplets in the clouds carry a small electric charge. As the water droplets combined and become larger, the electrical charges also add together. If the charge becomes big enough, sparks will fly from the clouds. Sparks may arc from one cloud to another or from the cloud to the ground. The sparks cause static electric disturbances in the atmosphere. On the AM radio disturbances can be heard by the cracking sound. One of the drawbacks of the radio waves that use to amplitude modulation (AM) is that the waves are easily disruptive by any kind of an electrical interference in the atmosphere. This is caused by a natural electrical arching in in the atmosphere (lightning) or by man-made devices like automobiles (cars trains). While the aching may be somewhat annoying while trying to listen to the radio, it also may tell us when a storm is approaching. First on a clear day with no storms listen to the AM radio for 5 minutes. Then record what you have heard. On a stormy day, listen to the AM radio for 5 minutes and record what you have heard. Compare what you have recorded and write the similarities and differences and why this happened. When you finish you should have that that clear day had less noise and static than the stormy day because of the electric sparks disrupting the radio wave creating a certain amount of cracks and pops. On the sunny day there should be fewer static cracks and pops because there isn’t interference. Now any time you are wondering if there is a storm coming just listen for the snap, crackle pop.


Amplitude modulation- A technique used in electronic communication, most commonly for transmitting information via a radio carrier wave

Electron- A negatively charged partial of an atom

Galvanometer- an instrument use to measure the size/amount of electric currents in an object

Nucleus- a cell inside the center of an atom

Proton- A part of an atom with a positive charge

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