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Atoms are the basic building

blocks of nature
Everything in nature, including our own bodies, is composed of atoms of various

Structure of Atoms

Each atom is comprised of

particles of 3 kinds:

1. Protons, which have the most

mass and are consequently
found in the middle, or nucleus
of the atom.
2. Neutrons, which are also found
in the nucleus. Since neutrons
have no role in the production
and use of electricity we pretty
much ignore them.
3. Electrons, which have much less
mass, and therefore are found
orbiting around the nucleus.

Conductors & Insulators

There are many different

kinds of atoms. Some have
just a few electrons, others
have many. The way the
electrons are organized also


Some atoms have an even

number of electrons in the
outer-most orbit. These
atoms are electrically stable,
which means they like the
way the are, and their
structure cant easily be

Examples of materials that

are insulators: Wood, plastic,
leather, glass, ceramic.
These materials will not
ordinarily conduct electricity.


Some atoms have just one

electron in the outermost orbit
called a free electron. These
atoms are electrically unstable,
and under the right conditions
the free electrons can be coaxed
to move from one atom to
another. Materials that have
these kinds of atoms are called

Examples of conductors: Most

metals, with gold, silver, and
copper being the best. Water is
also a good conductor. These
materials will conduct electricity.

Using Electrons to do work

Electrons are so small that nobody has ever seen one.

However, we have seen evidence of them - a lightning bolt
being one of the best examples.

Over the years scientists have discovered some

characteristics of electrons. For example, electrons are
attracted to protons.

Because of the attraction between electrons and protons we

can cause electrons to do work for us.

First we need to separate electrons and protons to create a

potential to do electrical work.

Separating Electrons and

Theres a number
of ways we can separate
electrons and protons. One
of the most common ways is
with a chemical reaction.
When we buy a AA battery
were just buying the potential
to do electrical work because
the chemical reaction in the
battery has already separated
the electrons and protons. Other
common ways to create electrical
potential is with generators, solar
cells, thermocouples, and crystals.

Measuring the Potential for

Electrical Work

Once weve separated

electrons and protons we can
actually measure how much
potential we have to do
electrical work. The unit of
measurement we use for this
is: VOLT


Once we have created the

potential to do electrical work
by separating electrons and
protons, we have to provide a
path for the electrons to
move. The path is normally a
copper wire, but in the case
of electronic circuit boards
its a flat wire called a trace.

Measuring the flow of charge

Once a complete circuit is

provided, electrons can flow in
the circuit to do electrical work,
such as producing light or heat.
We can measure the flow of
electrons, or flow of charge, and
the unit of measurement we use
is called the ampere, or amp for

An amp is defined as 1 coulomb

of charge moving past a given
point in 1 second.

Since electrons are so small, it

takes a lot of electrons to do
much work.


As electrons move through a substance, there is

opposition to their movement. This force is known as

Resistance can allow us to control how much

electricity is flowing in the circuit, which is very useful.

Sometimes resistance can be a negative thing. For

example, if you have a very long extension cord it can
have enough resistance to limit how much electricity
gets to the end of the cord.

Measuring resistance

We can measure how

much resistance is in a
circuit using a VOM,
otherwise known as a
Volt-Ohm Meter.

The unit of measurement

used for resistance is
the ohm.

Ohms are often

represented with the
Greek omega symbol.


When electrons, or flow of charge moves through a

conductor we call it current.

There are two basic kinds of current: AC, or

alternating current, and DC, or Direct Current.


As alternating current moves through a conductor it

changes directions, meaning it goes in one direction,
then turns and goes in the opposite direction.

In the United States AC changes directions 60 times

per second. The terminology we use to describe this
is 60 cycles per second (60 cps), or 60 Hertz (60Hz).

Alternating current is commonly produced by a

generator, and is available to us in the wall sockets of
our homes, schools, and businesses.


Direct Current, or DC is commonly produced by a


DC flows in one direction in the circuit from the

negative terminal of the battery to the positive


Theres a remarkable thing

that happens whenever a wire
is passed through a magnetic
field. That remarkable thing
is that electrons move
through the wire.

Generators use this principle

to produce most of the
electricity we use.

Generators are widely used at

hydroelectric dams, wind
farms, and by everything
used in transportation.

Electrical Safety

Fortunately for us, our skin is a

good insulator. High enough
voltages, however, can penetrate
our skin and once inside our
body the blood and other liquids
act as a good conductor.

For this reason we must do our

very best to avoid coming into
contact with objects containing
high voltage.

Sources of high voltage include

wall sockets, overhead power
lines, transformers, and

Its the amperage that kills

Voltage provides the pressure to push electrons

through our bodies, but its the amount of electrons, or
amperage that can actually kill us.

For example, when static electricity jumps from your

finger to the door knob the voltage is very high, but the
amperage is very low.

On the other hand, it doesnt take much amperage to

kill us. Between .1 and .2 of an amp of electricity
through our heart can kill us.

Be Smart!

As mentioned avoid high voltages as much as


If you have to test for voltage, like on an electric fence,

use the back of your hand.

Professionals often put one hand in their pocket when

around high voltages to avoid creating an electrical
path through their heart.