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Electric current is the flow (movement) of electric charge. The SI unit of electric current is the ampere (A), which is equal to a flow of one coulomb of charge per second. Definition: The amount of electric current (measured in amperes) through some surface, e.g., a section through a copper conductor, is defined as the amount of electric charge (measured in coulombs) flowing through that surface over time. If Q is the amount of charge that passed through the surface in the time t, then the average current I is:
By making the measurement time T shrink to zero, we get the instantaneous current i(t) as: The ampere, the measure of electric current, is an SI base unit so that the coulomb, the measure of electric charge, is derived from the definition of the ampere. Current in a metal wire
In solid conductive metal, a large population of electrons are mobile or free electrons. These electrons are bound to the metal lattice but not to any individual atom. Even without an external electric field applied, these electrons move about randomly due to thermal energy but on average, there is zero net current within the metal. Given an imaginary plane through which the wire passes, the number of electrons moving from one side to the other in any period of time is exactly equal to the number passing in the opposite direction. A typical metal wire for electrical conduction is the stranded copper wire. When a metal wire is connected across the two terminals of a DC voltage source such as a battery, the source places an electric field across the conductor. The moment contact is made, the free electrons of the conductor are forced to drift toward the positive terminal under the influence of this field. The free electron is therefore the current carrier in a typical solid conductor. For an electric current of 1 ampere rate, 1 coulomb of electric charge (which consists of about 6.242 × 1018 electrons) drifts every second through the imaginary plane through which the conductor passes. The current I in amperes can be calculated with the following equation: Where is the electric charge in coulombs (ampere seconds) in seconds It follows that: and is the time
Ohm's law predicts the current in an (ideal) resistor (or other ohmic device) to be applied voltage divided by resistance:
Where I is the current, measured in amperes V is the potential difference measured in volts R is the resistance measured in ohms
Conventional current was defined early in the history of electrical science as a flow of positive charge. In solid metals, like wires, the positive charge carriers are immobile, and only the negatively charged electrons flow. Because the electron carries negative charge, the electron current is in the direction opposite that of the conventional (or electric) current. Diagram showing conventional current notation. Electric charge moves from the positive side of the power source to the negative. In other conductive materials, the electric current is due to the flow of charged particles in both directions at the same time. Electric currents in electrolytes are flows of electrically charged atoms (ions), which exist in both positive and negative varieties. For example, an electrochemical cell may be constructed with salt water (a solution of sodium chloride) on one side of a membrane and pure water on the other. The membrane lets the positive sodium ions pass, but not the negative chloride ions, so a net current results. Electric currents in plasma are flows of electrons as well as positive and negative ions. In ice and in certain solid electrolytes, flowing protons constitute the electric current. To simplify this situation, the original definition of conventional current still stands. There are also materials where the electric current is due to the flow of electrons and yet it is conceptually easier to think of the current as due to the flow of positive "holes" (the spots that should have an electron to make the conductor neutral). This is the case in a p-type semiconductor.
The most obvious hazard is electrical shock, where a current passes through part of the body. It is the amount of current passing through the body that determines the effect, and this depends on the nature of the contact, the condition of the body part, the current path through the body and the voltage of the source. While a very small amount can cause a slight tingle, too much can cause severe burns if it passes through the skin or even cardiac arrest if enough passes through the heart. The effect also varies considerably from individual to individual. (For approximate figures see Shock Effects under electric shock.) Due to this and the fact that passing current cannot be easily predicted in most practical circumstances, any supply of over 50 volts should be considered a possible source of dangerous electric shock. In particular, note that 110 volts (a minimum voltage at which AC mains power is distributed in much of the Americas, and 4 other countries, mostly in Asia) can certainly cause a lethal amount of current to pass through the body. Electric arcs, which can occur with supplies of any voltage (for example, a typical arc welding machine has a voltage between the electrodes of just a few tens of volts), are very hot and emit ultra-violet (UV) and infra-red radiation (IR). Proximity to an electric arc can therefore cause severe thermal burns, and UV is damaging to unprotected eyes and skin.
Accidental electric heating can also be dangerous. An overloaded power cable is a frequent cause of fire. A battery as small as an AA cell placed in a pocket with metal coins can lead to a short circuit heating the battery and the coins which may inflict burns. NiCad, NiMh cells, and Lithium batteries are particularly risky because they can deliver a very high current due to their low internal resistance