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Unit 1

An Introduction to
Electricity
Basic Electronics Series
By Lamarr W. Ritchie

Part 1
UNIT OBJECTIVES
1.

TO DEFINE AND STATE THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN MATTER, ELEMENT,


NUCLEUS, COMPOUND, MOLECULE, MIXTURE, ATOM, ELECTRON,PROTON,
NEUTRON, ENERGY, VALENCE, VALENCE SHELL AND ION.

2.

DEFINE AND STATE THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN KINETIC ENERGY,


POTENTIAL ENERGY, ELECTRON ORBITS, ENERGY LEVELS, SHELLS AND
SUBSHELLS.

3.

DESCRIBE AND DEFINE CONDUCTORS, INSULATORS AND SEMICONDUCTORS


AND GIVE EXAMPLES OF EACH.

4.

DESCRIBE AND DEFINE ELECTROSTATIC FIELD AND CHARGE AND STATE THEIR
PROPERTIES.

5.

DEFINE VOLTAGE, CURRENT, RESISTANCE AND CONDUCTANCE, DEFINE THEIR


UNITS AND DESCRIBE THEIR RELATIONSHIPS TO EACH OTHER.

6.

DRAW A SCHEMATIC DIAGRAM OF THE SIMPLEST ELECTRIC CIRCUIT AND


DISCUSS ITS PROPERTIES.

7.

DISCUSS HOW RESISTIVITY, LENGTH, TEMPERATURE AND CROSS-SECTIONAL


AREA AFFECT THE RESISTANCE OF A CONDUCTOR.

8.

DESCRIBE THE EFFECTS OF AN OPEN CIRCUIT OR SHORT CIRCUIT.

9.

DEFINE "AC" AND "DC".

MATTER

To properly study electronics, one must have some understanding of the basic building
blocks of matter. Matter is defined as anything that has weight and occupies space; that is,
the weight and dimensions of matter can be measured. There are three states in which
matter can exist. It may exist as a solid, liquid, or gas.
ELEMENTS AND COMPOUNDS
A long time ago, Aristotle thought that all matter was made of varying amounts of four
substances; earth, air, fire and water. We know now, of course, that this is not true. There
are actually over 100 of the basic elements of which all matter, as we know it, exists. All
matter is composed of one or more elements. An element is a substance that cannot be
reduced to a simpler substance by chemical means. Some examples of common elements
are iron, gold, aluminum, copper and oxygen. When matter is made of more than one
element, it can be either a mixture of the elements or a compound.
A compound is a chemical combination of two or more elements that cannot be separated
by physical means, with the resulting substance having different properties than either
element alone. One example of a compound is water. Water consists of hydrogen and
oxygen, each of which is normally a gas in its elemental state. When these two elements
are simply mixed together, they are very, very explosive (Many modern rockets use
hydrogen and oxygen as fuel). The compound made of the two (water) is used to put out
fires!
Another excellent example is ordinary table salt. Its chemical name is sodium chloride and
it consists of the elements sodium and chlorine, each of which alone is a very poisonous
and dangerous element.
A mixture is simply a combination of elements (or compounds) that can be separated by
physical means and are not chemically combined. Examples of mixtures are air, which is
made up mostly of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide, and sea water, consisting mostly
of salt and water.
ATOMS
An atom is defined as the smallest particle of an element that retains the characteristics of
that element. The word atom means indivisible in Greek.
As a thought experiment, imagine that you have a piece of iron. It has all the properties of
iron and you can identify it as such. Imagine that you now divide this piece of iron in the
middle. You now have two pieces of iron. Each has all the properties of iron and can be
identified as such.
Now imagine that you take one of these pieces and divide it, then take one of those pieces
and divide it, and so on until you get the smallest possible "piece" of iron. This piece still
has the properties of iron, although it is very tiny indeed! This piece, if divided further,
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will no longer be iron. We have continuously divided until we have arrived at a single
atom of iron.
In 1803, the British chemist John Dalton pointed out that the fact that chemical
compounds always combined in certain proportions could be explained by the grouping
together of atoms to form molecules. This was not verified until this century when
Einstein added some important information and explanations.
Around this time, it was thought that the atom could be divided into smaller particles. J. J.
Thompson demonstrated the existence of the electron.
In 1911, the British physicist Ernest Rutherford gave evidence that the atom is made of an
extremely tiny positively charged nucleus with a number of electrons orbiting around it. In
1932, James Chadwick discovered that the nucleus contained another type of particle; the
neutron. The neutron differed from the other two in that it had no charge.
The atom, then, can be further divided into its constituent particles (the particles that make
it). These are called the subatomic particles. The atoms of each element are made up of
protons, electrons and, in most cases, neutrons, each of which is identical to all others of
the same kind. That is to say, all electrons are identical, as are all protons and all neutrons.
It is the number and arrangement of these particles that gives each atom its particular
properties.
An analogy might be that of a carpenter that has three different kinds of bricks, or building
blocks available. The carpenter could build many different types of houses or structures
with these.
Lest you think we've reached the end of things, just over twenty years ago it was
discovered that even the electrons, protons and neutrons can be divided into smaller
particles. These were named Quarks. (This name was derived from an enigmatic
quotation by James Joyce)
Note that from the technicians standpoint, you don't need to know a thing about quarks. I
have included them here for interest only and to show that physicists don't always use
Greek names and indeed. can have a sense of humor at times.
There are a number of different varieties of quarks. At least six "flavors" are thought to
exist. These are called up, down, strange, charmed, bottom and top. Each flavor comes
in three "colors"; red, blue and green. Note that these are names only. These particles are
MUCH, MUCH smaller than a wavelength of light and can thus have no such thing as
color as we know it.
A proton or neutron are made up of three quarks, one of each color. A proton contains
two up quarks and one down quark and a neutron contains two down quarks and one up
quark.
With enough said about quarks, let's go back to our discussion of the three particles that
concern us; protons, neutrons and electrons.
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Each of the three particles has its own characteristics. For instance, each has mass
although this mass is very small indeed! The approximate mass of each is:
Electron

--------------------------

9.1 X 10-28 gram

The electron is Proton


-------------------------1.672
X
10-24
by far the least gram
massive of the Neutron
-------------------------1.675
X
10-24
three.
The gram
proton
and
neutron are nearly the same mass and are over 1800 times more massive than the electron.
Another characteristic that the particles have is their electrostatic charge. Only the
electrons and protons have this charge, the neutron does not. There exists around the
proton and electron an invisible field of force called an electrostatic field. Within this
field, a particle can affect, or be affected by, another particle although they are physically
separated. The electrostatic fields surrounding the proton and electron have the same
strength. That is, they both have the same amount of charge. However, the fields do not
behave the same and thus were given different names. It was decided to call the charge of
the electron negative and that of the proton positive.
Particles that have this charge will affect each other if bought close enough together. They
will either attract or repel each other. This is known as Coulomb's Law, named so in
honor of the French physicist Charles Augustin de Coulomb (1736 - 1806). Coulomb's
Law states that:
LIKE CHARGES REPEL AND UNLIKE CHARGES ATTRACT
This means that two protons, if bought close together, would repel each other - as would
two electrons. An electron and a proton, however, will attract each other if bought close
together. To help visualize the effects of the fields it is customary to represent the fields as
consisting of lines, called the electrostatic lines of force. Note that these lines do not
actually exist, but are simply a way of representing the invisible field.
To show that the positive and negative fields are different, the lines of force are given a
direction by drawing arrows associated with them. Usually, the arrows point away from a
positive charge and toward a negative charge. We can visualize, then, that if two like
charges are bought close the lines of force will clash with each other, pushing the objects
apart. Likewise, if two oppositely charged particles are bought close together, the lines of
force will merge together and pull the particles close to each other.
A rough analogy would be to visualize two fans. If these were placed such that they were
blowing toward each other, the air would force the fans apart. If the output of one were
placed near the intake of the other, however, the streams of air would be the same
direction and they would be pulled together. Figure 1-1 illustrates the electrostatic lines of
force around protons and electrons and the attraction and repulsion effect.

two protons
(repulsion)

two electrons
(repulsion)

proton/electron
(attraction)

FIGURE 1-1

Electrons are always in motion and thus have a certain amount of kinetic energy due to
this motion. We can visualize, then, an electron approaching a proton. The proton and
electron will attract each other and, the electron, due to its motion and the fact that it is
much the less massive of the two, will take up a stable orbit around the proton. This is
somewhat similar to the way the moon and artificial satellites orbit the earth.
Once the electron has paired with the proton in this way, the lines of force are shared
between the two (see figure 1-1). There are then no external lines of force and a neutral
group is formed. The two paired together, then, have no charge as viewed externally.
What has formed from this union is the simplest possible atom; an atom of the element
hydrogen. Since it has the fewest number of particles of any atom, it is the lightest
element.
The central part of the atom is called the nucleus. The nucleus of the hydrogen atom has
only a single proton. All of the elements above hydrogen also have neutrons. These
elements have more than one proton in the nucleus and the neutrons help to bind these
protons together in spite of the repelling force that they have to each other.
The second element up, as we increase the number of protons and electrons, is the element
helium. It has two protons in the nucleus and two orbiting electrons. In addition, the
nucleus has two neutrons. Figure 1-2
shows a representation of the hydrogen
and helium atoms.
Notice in the figure that the two
electrons in the helium atom are orbiting
as far from each other as possible. This
is due to their repelling effect. They are
Hydrogen atom
Helium Atom
attracted to the positive charge of the
nucleus, but repelled from each other.
FIGURE 1-2
Now let's take a look at the next
element, lithium. The lithium atom consists of three protons, three electrons, and four
neutrons as shown in figure 1-3.
Notice that the third electron does not orbit at the same distance as the other two. The
reason for this is that it is repelled from the other two and would have to get too close to
them to "fit in". It, therefore, takes an orbit at a greater distance. These different electron
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orbits are called shells. There is a limit as to how many


electrons may orbit within a shell before it is filled. The
first shell is filled with only two, as seen with the lithium
atom.
The circumference of the second shell, however, is much
greater than that of the first shell. This means that more
electrons can orbit within that shell than the first before
the shell gets "overcrowded". Up to eight electrons can
occupy the second shell.

structure of the Lithium atom


FIGURE 1-3

The element neon has ten protons and ten electrons.


There are two electrons in the first shell and eight electrons in the second, completely
filling it.
The next element above neon, sodium, has eleven protons and electrons. The eleventh
electron must take up an orbit in the third shell, the second being full. The third shell can
contain eighteen electrons before it is filled. The maximum number of electrons that a
shell may contain can be derived by squaring the number of the shell, then multiplying by
two. Applying this, we can calculate that the fourth shell can accommodate a maximum of
32 electrons.
The different shells are actually named by the letters of the alphabet, starting at the letter
K. The first shell, then, is called the K shell, the second is called the L shell, and so forth.
Although higher shells can accommodate many electrons, this is not the full picture. There
is a mass attraction between electrons (you can think of it as being similar to gravity) that
tends to bind them together, in a fashion, into groups having different shapes of orbits.
These are called subshells. The electrons are still separated because of their electrostatic
repulsion, but are bound together as a group in the shells and subshells.
In the M shell (the 3rd), eighteen electrons can be accommodated, but because of the
subshells, this shell will appear to be full if it has eight electrons. We'll have more on this a
little later, but a point to remember here is that a shell will appear to be full when it has 8
or 18 electrons.
At this point, some things need to be clarified about our description of the atom. The first
is that the atoms depicted in the preceding drawings are definitely not "drawn to scale".
The atom is actually almost all empty space.
A little better visualization of the relative sizes of the particles and the spaces between
them can be obtained by visualizing the hydrogen atom as being one-half mile in diameter.
The nucleus can be visualized as a basketball placed at the center, and the single orbiting
electron as a tennis ball - orbiting one quarter of a mile away!
Of course, an assumption is made here that the particles are in the shape of tiny spheres,
and they are usually visualized this way, but this is only a convenient way of visualizing
particles that could not possibly be seen at all, regardless of the amount of magnification
used. These particles are much, much smaller than a single wavelength of visible light.
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In fact, it is impossible to even visualize the correct shape of the particles with any kind of
two-dimensional or three-dimensional representation, and the following discussion shows
why.
In addition to their mass, velocity and charge particles are said to have a spin. One way of
visualizing this is to pretend they are like tiny rotating spheres, and this is usually they way
they are represented. But this is not an accurate representation. What spin really refers to
is how the particles would look from different directions, and how much you would have
to rotate (spin) the particle before it appears the same again. A particle with spin 0 looks
the same from all directions and thus does not have to be turned around at all to look the
same from another direction.
Electrons, protons and neutrons do not have a spin of 0, and therefore cannot actually
have the shape of tiny spheres. A sphere does look the same from all directions.
All known particles have spins of 1/2, 0, 1 and 2. A particle with spin 1 must be rotated
once (360 degrees) before it appears the same again. Most objects that we can see are
like this. If you are looking at a car, for example, you would have to walk around it one
time or rotate it one time for it to appear exactly the same as it did when you started.
A particle with spin 2 will look the same twice if you rotate it once or walk around it once.
A double-headed arrow would be like this.
Particles with spins of 0, 1 and 2 are the force carrying particles. They are referred to as
virtual particles because they cannot be detected with a particle detector. There are four
types of forces between particles caused by these force carrying particles. These are:
1. Gravity
2. The Weak Nuclear Force This force is responsible for effects like radioactivity
3. The Strong Nuclear Force
This force binds particles together in the nucleus
4. The Electromagnetic Force
One manifestation of this force is the attraction
between protons and electrons
All of the so called real particles, such as electrons, have a spin of 1/2. This means you
would have to rotate them twice before they would look the same. So much for
visualizing what they actually look like!
There are certain physical laws that have been discovered concerning the nature of the
subatomic particles and how they react with each other. Some of these we have already
seen. Since you are not studying to be a physicist or "rocket scientist" it is not necessary
that you understand all that has been learned about the atom, but there are certain
principles that will help you in later studies of electronic devices and circuits.
In 1900, the German scientist Max Planck discovered that electromagnetic waves cannot
be emitted from atoms at any arbitrary rate or frequency, but only in certain sized "packets
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called quanta. As a result of this, we know that the orbiting electrons cannot orbit the
nucleus at just any distance, but only within certain allowed orbits, as we will see later.
In 1925, the Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli discovered what is now known as Pauli's
Exclusion Principle. The Exclusion Principle states that two particles cannot have the
same state at the same time. That is, no two particles can have both the same position and
the same velocity at the same time.
In 1926, the German physicist Werner Heisenberg formulated the "Uncertainty Principle".
Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle states that it is impossible to predict both the position
and velocity of a particle at a given time. This principle means, in effect, that there is
always some degree of "randomness" in the properties and behavior of the atoms,
molecules and subatomic particles. Until his death, Einstein refused to believe in this
principle, although it has been proven almost without doubt. He made the famous
statement regarding the Uncertainty Principle; "I cannot believe that God plays dice with
the universe".
Quantum Mechanics, the tool used by present physicists and scientists, was formulated by
Heisenburg, Ervin Shrodinger and Paul DIrac in the late 1920's. It is based on quantum
theory and the uncertainty principle.
One result of the quantum theory is that the subatomic particles behave both like particles
and like tiny waves, such as by creating a diffraction pattern when a stream of them passes
through a tiny opening.
One way of visualizing the electron as a wave was introduced by the American physicist
Richard Freyman. It is called the "sum over histories". To use this method, one begins by
assuming that the electron takes all possible paths in its rotation around the nucleus. Two
numbers are given for each path. One is the size of the wave and the other is the particle
location in the wave.

A probability for an electron taking a given path is calculated by adding up the waves for
all the paths. In most neighboring paths, the waves will be in differing positions, or "out
of phase", and will thus cancel. In some neighboring paths, the waves will not differ much
and will not cancel out. These paths correspond to Bohr's allowed orbits. The closer the
waves are to being "in phase" in neighboring paths, the more likely the electron is to take
that path. Probabilities that the electron will be in a certain region can be calculated.
The electron orbits in the drawings are shown to be circular, and with a certain definite
path taken around the nucleus. This implies that we could predict where an electron
would be at some time just like we can predict where the moon will be at some point as it
rotates around the earth. As we have seen, this is definitely not so! The best that can be
done is to predict the probability that an electron will be at a certain distance from the
nucleus.

The electron orbits are sometimes more accurately drawn as "clouds" around the nucleus
indicating the possible places for the electrons to be. Also, the circular (actually spherical)
orbit is not the only shape possible. There are also elliptical, egg shaped and even
dumbbell shaped and double dumbbell shaped orbitals.
As we have seen, the electrons within a shell will group into different types of orbits,
referred to as subshells. The subshells that exist within the main shells are referred to with
the letters s, p, d and f. These subshells will accommodate 2, 6, 10 and 14 electrons,
respectively.
The number of protons that an element has is referred to as its atomic number. In the
normal atom, the number of electrons is the same as the number of protons, so the atomic
number can be thought of as the number of electrons in the atom.
Atoms also have an atomic weight which refers to the relative masses of the elements.
The atomic weight is roughly the mass of the nucleus, where most of the mass resides.
The atomic weights are all relative to the oxygen atom, which has an atomic weight of 16
(8 protons + 8 neutrons in its nucleus).
For the most part, a particular element will have the same number of neutrons from atom
to atom, hence the same atomic weight. However, there do exist different isotopes of the
same element. These have the same atomic number, but a different atomic weight due to a
different number of neutrons.
Most hydrogen atoms, for example, have only a single proton in the nucleus. The isotope
deuterium, also known as hydrogen-2, has one proton and one neutron in its nucleus. It is
therefore twice as massive as the most common hydrogen atom, hydrogen-1. When water
is separated out that contains mostly the hydrogen-2 atoms, it is called heavy water. These
hydrogen atoms are easier to employ in atomic fusion processes because they already
contain the neutrons to create a helium atom from the fusion of two hydrogen atoms.
The normal atom is balanced. That is, it is electrostatically neutral in that it has the same
number of electrons as protons. There are several processes by which an atom can gain or
lose an electron. The atoms formed when this happens are called ions and are not neutral.
They will have a net positive or negative charge.
An atom that has lost an electron has a positive charge. The number of protons now
exceeds the number of electrons. This atom is called a positive ion. If an atom gains an
electron, it is a negative ion because the number of electrons exceeds the number of
protons.
Ions are unstable. They will not stay in the unbalanced state very long. For instance, the
positive ion will attract another electron as soon as one is available and form a stable,
balanced atom.
The rotating electrons in an atom have a certain amount of energy. The electrons in the
higher shells have more energy than electrons in the lower shells. The shell that an
electron occupies may be referred to as the energy level of the electron. This sounds
confusing at first but it really isn't that difficult to understand.
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As a modern day analogy, consider the space shuttle as it is boosted into earth orbit. This
orbit could be at a height of 150 miles above the earth. Once the orbit has been reached,
the rocket motors can be turned off and the shuttle will remain in that orbit. It has taken a
certain amount of energy, by the burning of the rocket fuel, to place the shuttle in this
orbit. The shuttle now has a certain amount of energy due to its angular velocity.
If it is desired for the shuttle to take a higher orbit, it must be given more energy by firing
the rocket engines again. This will increase the shuttles angular velocity and, therefore,
the kinetic energy that it has.
To bring the shuttle to a lower orbit, we must decrease its energy. The rockets could be
fired in the opposite direction, canceling some of its angular momentum. It will then not
have the energy to maintain the higher orbit and will fall to a lower one.
This analogy works well to obtain a mental view of electron orbits and energy levels, but is
not entirely accurate. The shuttle could be placed in an orbit at any distance from the
earth, provided that enough fuel was available (and, for near orbits, providing the earth's
atmosphere were non-existent). As we have seen, however, the quantum principle dictates
that the electrons may only occupy certain energy levels in the atom.
Electrons normally will locate themselves in the lowest available energy levels in the atom.
This is sometimes referred to as the ground state for the atom. As an example, for
ordinary hydrogen, the single electron is located in the first shell, the K shell, with the
lowest orbit or energy level. For this electron to jump out to the second possible energy
level, it would be necessary to apply energy to it. The atom would then be in the excited
state.
This is not a stable state, however, and the electron would quickly fall back to the lowest
level, giving up the energy that it had been given. The energy that the electron gives up
would be in the form of a photon.
A photon is often referred to as a particle but can also be considered as a small, vibrating
package of energy. You can think of it as a "wave" that propagates from the atom when
the electron strikes the lower energy level, somewhat like when a clapper strikes a bell and
a sound wave or "vibration" issues from it.
Photons are the constituents of electromagnetic waves. You will be probably be studying
about these in the future if you continue your study of electronics. Radio waves and
visible light are examples of electromagnetic radiation. Photons have a certain energy,
depending upon their frequency (or vice versa, depending upon how you look at it).
Frequency can be thought of as the rate of vibration and may be given in vibrations (or
cycles) per second. Higher frequency photons have more energy than lower frequency
ones.
When certain gasses are ionized they will glow with a visible light. Neon gas is an
example. When a positive ion is formed and an electron is recaptured, it must propagate
or "step down" through the energy levels to reach the ground state of the atom. When this
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happens for neon gas, the photons produced are in the reddish-orange region of the visible
light spectrum.
MOLECULES
As mentioned earlier, when atoms of different elements are chemically combined, they
form compounds. Compounds are possible because of the way that atoms can bind
together in a group. The molecule is a group of two or more atoms that is the smallest
particle having all the characteristics of the compound.
To understand how a molecule is formed, recall the arrangements of the protons and
electrons in the atom. The electrons were arranged in shells around the nucleus. Anything
that approaches an atom encounters first the electrons of the outer shell. In all everyday
chemical reactions and energy exchanges with normal matter, it is the electrons in the
outermost shell that are involved. These are called the valence electrons.
An atom is most stable when its valence shell (outer shell) is full. If it is lacking only one
or two electrons to fill the shell, it will easily gain the electrons needed to fill the shell, but
it will take a large amount of energy to free any electrons. As opposed to this, an atom
having a small number of electrons in the shell compared to the number needed to fill it
can easily have these electrons removed.

Chemists say that an element has a certain valence depending upon the atom's ability to
combine with other elements. It is the number of electrons in the outer shell that
determines the valence of an element. Note here that we are using the term shell to refer
to either a shell or subshell.
There are three ways in which atoms are bound together as molecules.
(1)

Atoms of one kind may surrender electrons to nearby atoms of another kind. The
atoms losing electrons will then have a net positive charge and the ones gaining
electrons will have a negative charge. The resulting electrostatic attraction
between the two binds them together. This is called an ionic bond. The atoms of
sodium chloride (table salt) are combined in this way.

(2)

Through a more complicated mechanism, in the covalent bond, electrons are


shared between atoms in pairs. An added electron helps to fill the outermost shell
and thus make the atom more stable. The shared electrons will become alternately
the property of one atom then the other. The charge constantly exchanged by the
atoms means that they will always have the opposite charge and will thus be bound
by this exchange.

(3)

A metallic bond is somewhat similar to the covalent bond except that a group of
atoms share a number of electrons without any definite ownership pattern. This
type of bonding occurs between metal atoms that are large and have few electrons
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in the outer shells. These electrons are far from the nucleus and, being few in
number, are not tightly bound either to the nucleus or each other. They will drift
more or less at random from atom to atom.
Figure
1-4
shows
how
two
atoms of

FIGURE 1-4

hydrogen combine with one atom of oxygen in a covalent bond to form a water molecule.
The oxygen atom has eight protons and eight electrons. Two electrons occupy the first
shell, completely filling it. The six remaining electrons occupy the second shell, leaving a
deficiency of two electrons. Two hydrogen atoms join with the oxygen atom, sharing their
electrons with the oxygen atom, making it appear that the oxygen atom has a full outer
shell.
The nucleus of the oxygen atom has eight neutrons in addition to the eight protons. These
are represented as a single object in this figure to simplify the drawing.
ELECTRICITY
Electricity is generally described as having two forms, although they are actually the same;
static electricity and dynamic electricity. To explain just what electricity is, let's first take
a look at dynamic electricity, known more commonly as electric current. Electric current
is, quite simply, the movement of electrons from one point to another. If electrons can be
freed from the atoms in a substance and forced to move through it, useful effects can be
obtained from this motion.
To get electrons to move through a material, a possible method is to place equal and
opposite electrostatic charges at two points, a positive charge at one end and a negative
charge at the other for instance. The electrons in the material will be repelled from the
negative charge and attracted to the positive charge. They will then move away from the
negative charge and toward the positive charge, if they are free to do so.
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Some materials will allow electric current to flow through them quite easily. These
materials are called conductors. All metals are conductors of electricity. The best
conductor is silver, with copper being almost as good. Since copper is by far the cheaper
of the two, it is the most popular conductor used in electronics.
To see why copper is a good conductor, let's take a look at the structure of the copper
atom. Copper has an atomic number of 29. This means that its atoms have 29 protons
and 29 electrons. These electrons will occupy shells, of course, with the first having two
electrons, filling it. The next shell will have eight electrons, completely filling it.
Likewise, the third shell will be full with eighteen electrons. This accounts for 28 of the
electrons. The other electron will occupy the fourth shell. This single valence electron is
at a considerable distance from the positive charge of the nucleus, the effect of which is
clouded by the three filled shells of negative electrons. Also, there are no other electrons
in the shell it occupies to bind with. The simplified structure of the copper atom is
illustrated in figure 1-5.
The single electron in the valence shell is so loosely bound to the atom that, in a piece of
copper, these electrons randomly drift from atom to atom. They are called free electrons.
Conductors can be defined as materials that have free electrons.
Another way to define them would be to
state that they are materials in which the
valence shell is less than half filled.
As indicated, figure 1-5 is a simplified
representation of the copper atom since
the shells are not shown divided into
subshells.
This representation works out well for
copper because the inner three shells are
indeed full and the outer shell does have
FIGURE 1-5
a single electron. For heavier atoms,
however, confusion can result unless you are aware that electrons can begin to occupy
higher numbered shells before the lower numbered shells are full.
simplified structure of the copper atom

Consider our best conductor, silver. Silver has an atomic number of 47 and therefore has
47 electrons and 47 protons. If we ignore the subshells and believe all shells up to the
outer one to be filled we would erroneously believe that the shells would be occupied this
way:
INCORRECT REPRESENTATION OF THE SILVER ATOM
1st shell
2nd shell
3rd shell
4th shell

2 electrons
8 electrons
18 electrons
19 electrons

13

shell filled
shell filled
shell filled
shell more than half filled

By this reasoning, silver would behave more like an insulator. In the actual silver atom,
there are five occupied shells, not four. The fourth shell contains 18 electrons with the s, p
and d subshells filled. The other electron is in the s subshell of the fifth shell. We can
represent the silver atom this way:
Ag = 1S2 2S2 2P6 3S2 3P6 3D10 4S2 4P6 4D10 5S1
The first number indicates the shell. The next letter indicates the subshell, and the last
number is the number of electrons in the subshell. From this representation we can see
that silver does indeed have a single electron its outer shell.
The atoms of another good conductor, gold, have electrons arranged like this:
Au = 1S2 2S2 2P6 3S2 3P6 3D10 4S2 4P6 4D10 4F14 5S2 5P6 5D10 6S1
As more electrons are added in the valence shell, they become more tightly bound to each
other.
Materials in which the valence shell is more than half filled do not normally conduct
electric current. These are called insulators. An insulator can also be defined as a material
with no free electrons, or as a material that has only bound electrons.
Actually, most insulators that are used are compounds in which the valence electrons of
the atoms are bound to other atoms, further inhibiting current flow. Glass, rubber and
most plastics are excellent insulators.
In between the conductors and insulators is a third class of materials known as
semiconductors. They are materials in which the valence shell is half filled. Since any
shell outward from the third appears full when it has eight electrons, semiconductors can
also be defined as materials that have four valence electrons.
Some, but not all, semiconductors will have characteristics between a conductor and an
insulator. That is, they will conduct electric current but not nearly as well as a conductor.
This is true of carbon, a material used to make resistors. Two other
popular semiconductors, silicon and germanium, behave more like
insulators in their pure form. The reasons for this will be learned in
later studies.

carbon atom
FIGURE 1-6

The carbon atom has 6 protons and 6 electrons. The first shell will
be filled with two electrons, and the remaining four will be in the
second shell, making it exactly half full. Figure 1-6 shows the
simplified structure of the carbon atom.

A material such as carbon is said to have more resistance than a conductor does.
Resistance is the property of a material or device to oppose, but not stop, the flow of
electric current through it. All electric circuits have resistance in them. As a matter of

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fact, no work can be done until the electric current flows through a resistance of some
kind.
In addition to current and resistance, all electric circuits must have a source of
electrostatic charge to cause the electrons to move. This is called the electromotive force
in the circuit. This is often abbreviated to EMF, but is more commonly known as the
voltage, because of the unit used for it, the volt. In a circuit there are usually many
voltages that technicians may use a voltmeter to measure. It is usually the source voltage,
such as the battery or power supply voltage that is referred to as the circuit EMF.
There are other names used for the EMF but before we get to those, we need to describe a
little more fully what is meant by "electric circuit". An electric circuit is an arrangement of
conductors attached to a source of EMF (such as a battery) and a resistance of some type
such that there is a complete path for the electrons to follow from the negative terminal of
the voltage source back to the positive terminal. This is often referred to as a complete
circuit.
simplest electric circuit

All electric circuits have in common three things; current,


voltage and resistance. We will now take a look at the
simplest possible electric circuit, consisting of a source of
EMF (voltage) connected to a resistance by two
conductors. Figure 1-7 shows how the technician would
draw this circuit.

The drawing in figure 1-7 is what technicians refer to as a


schematic diagram. It shows what parts are used and how
battery
resistor
they are interconnected in the circuit. Each component has
a schematic symbol. On the left of the diagram is the
FIGURE 1-7
symbol for a battery, sometimes used as a generic symbol
for any source of direct current, or DC. The shorter bar at the bottom of the symbol is the
negative(-) terminal, with the wider bar at the top symbolizing the positive(+) terminal.
Direct current means any current that always flows in the same direction in a circuit. The
voltage source has a negative terminal and a positive terminal, as a battery does. Some
voltage sources have terminals in which the polarity reverses periodically. In these
circuits, the current would flow first one way, then the other. This is called alternating
current (AC). The characteristics and uses of AC will be studied in later lessons. For
now, all our discussions about electric circuits will assume that they are all DC circuits.
The symbol on the right of the diagram stands for a resistor, an electronic component that
opposes a current flow. Resistors can be used to limit the flow of current in a circuit to a
certain predetermined amount.
The straight lines in the schematic, connecting the battery to the resistor, are the
conductors. You can think of them as two wires although they could take other forms
such as a tracing on a printed circuit board.

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The schematic symbols, of course, rarely look like the actual components. The technician
must know both the physical appearance of the components and their schematic symbol.
In addition, there are alphanumeric symbols that represent the common components. The
letter R stands for resistance, I stands for current and V stands for voltage. Sometimes an
E is used for voltage, but in modern references, a V is most often used. The V was used
some years ago to stand for vacuum tube.
Remember:

R
stands for Resistance
I
stands for current
V or E stands for voltage

The purpose of
the letter symbols is twofold. First, they provide a convenient way of representing the
values of the components in mathematical expressions. Secondly, they are a convenient
way of labeling the components and referring to them in technical discussions, parts lists,
etc. When multiple components of the same type are used, subscripts identify the
individual components.
Referring to figure 1-7 again. The current flow in this circuit will leave the negative
terminal of the battery, flow around the circuit, through the resistor, and back to the
positive terminal of the battery. This is a complete circuit, sometimes called a closed
circuit, meaning there is a path for the current to flow from the battery to the resistor, and
from the resistor back to the battery.
Notice that the flow is from the negative terminal TO the positive terminal. This is
sometimes referred to as electron current flow. Specifically, electric current consists of a
movement of charge from one point to another. There are cases where the electric current
consists of positive charges moving between two points. This type of current flow is
present in certain semiconductor materials and ionized materials. Current flow by this
means would be from a positive charge to a negative charge.
When electrons move through a conducting material, they are passed from atom to atom.
As an electron leaves an atom it is associated with, the atom it leaves gains a positive
charge until another electron moves in to take its place. If one could view these positive
charges during the process of current flow, they would appear to move from the positive
source terminal to the negative source terminal.
The convention of electricity consisting of positive
charges in motion is referred to as conventional
current flow and can be used to visualize and make
mathematical analyses of circuit operation. In the
fields of electricity conventional current flow is often
used, and in most electrical devices the actual
direction of current flow does not matter. In the
study of electronics, however, most current is
represented by the direction of electron flow.
Another example of a simple electric circuit is shown
in figure 1-8. This circuit is identical to the previous
one except that the resistor has been replaced with
16

FIGURE 1-8

an incandescent lamp. This lamp is still a resistance, however, as far as the circuit is
concerned. The filament of an incandescent lamp is material that has a relatively high
resistance. Tungsten is often used.
The top figure is a pictorial representation of the circuit. The schematic diagram is shown
at the bottom.
In this circuit, the current will leave the negative terminal of the battery, travel counterclockwise around the circuit through the lamp and back to the positive terminal. The
electrons travel easily through the conductors but encounter a high resistance in the
filament of the lamp. The electrons moving through this resistance is similar to friction
and causes the filament to get hot - hot enough to glow.

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