You are on page 1of 37


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Define electricity and identify the origins of the term.
• Discuss how electricity can be observed in the world.

What is Electricity?

Electricity is a naturally occurring force that exists all around us. Humans
have been aware of this force for many centuries. Ancient man believed that
electricity was some form of magic because they did not understand it.
Greek philosophers noticed that when a piece of amber was rubbed with
cloth, it would attract pieces of straw. They recorded the first references
to electrical effects, such as static electricity and lightning, over 2,500
years ago.

It was not until 1600 that a man named Dr. William Gilbert coined the term
“electrica,” a Latin word which describes the static charge that develops
when certain materials are rubbed against amber. This is probably the
source of the word “electricity." Electricity and magnetism are natural
forces that are very closely related to one another. You will learn a little
about magnetism in this section, but there is a whole section on magnetism if
you want to learn more.

In order to really understand electricity, we need to look closely at the very
small components that compose all matter.


1. Electricity occurs naturally and has been observed for
thousands of years.
2. Electricity and magnetism are very closely related.


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Explain the differences between electrons and protons.
• Predict what happens when protons and electrons interact
with other protons or electrons.


Electrons are the smallest and lightest of the particles in an atom.
Electrons are in constant motion as they circle around the nucleus of
that atom. Electrons are said to have a negative charge, which means
that they seem to be surrounded by a kind of invisible force field.
This is called an electrostatic field.


Protons are much larger and heavier than electrons. Protons have a positive
electrical charge. This positively charged electrostatic field is
exactly the same strength as the electrostatic field in an
electron, but it is opposite in polarity. Notice the negative
electron (pictured at the top left) and the positive proton
(pictured at the right) have the same number of force field
lines in each of the diagrams. In other words, the proton is
exactly as positive as the electron is negative.

Like charges repel, unlike charges attract

Two electrons will tend to repel each other because both have a negative
electrical charge. Two protons will also tend to repel each other because
they both have a positive charge. On the other hand, electrons and protons
will be attracted to each other because of their unlike charges.

Since the electron is much smaller and lighter than a proton, when they are
attracted to each other due to their unlike charges, the electron usually
does most of the moving. This is because the protons have more mass and
are harder to get moving. Although electrons are very small, their negative

electrical charges are still quite strong. Remember, the negative charge of
an electron is the same as the positive electrical charge of the much larger
in size proton. This way the atom stays electrically balanced.

Another important fact about the electrical charges of protons and
electrons is that the farther away they are from each other, the less force
their electric fields have on each other. Similarly, the closer they are to
each other, the more force they will experience from each other due to this
invisible force field called an electric field.


1. Electrons have a negative electrostatic charge and protons
have a positive electrostatic charge.
2. A good way to remember what charge protons have is to
remember both proton and positive charge start with "P."
3. Like charges repel, unlike charges attract, just like with


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Explain how an electrical current is produced.

Electricity is a term used to describe the energy produced (usually to
perform work) when electrons are caused to directional (not randomly) flow
from atom to atom. In fact, the day-to-day products that we all benefit
from, rely on the movement of electrons. This movement of electrons
between atoms is called electrical current. We will look at how electrical
current is produced and measured in the following pages.


1. Electricity is a word used to describe the directional flow of
electrons between atoms.
2. The directional movement of electrons between atoms is
called electrical current.


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Contrast the characteristics of conductors and insulators.
• List examples of common conductors and insulators.
• Explain how insulators provide protection from electricity.

In the previous pages, we have talked a bit about “conductors” and
“insulators”. We will discuss these two subjects a little more before moving
on to discuss circuits.


Do you remember the copper atom that we discussed? Do you remember how
its valence shell had an electron that could easily be shared between other
atoms? Copper is considered to be a conductor because it “conducts” the
electron current or flow of electrons fairly easily. Most metals are
considered to be good conductors of electrical current. Copper is just one of
the more popular materials that is used for conductors.

Other materials that are sometimes used as conductors are silver, gold, and
aluminum. Copper is still the most popular material used for wires because it
is a very good conductor of electrical current and it is fairly inexpensive
when compared to gold and silver. Aluminum and most other metals do not
conduct electricity quite as good as copper.


Insulators are materials that have just the opposite effect on the flow of
electrons. They do not let electrons flow very easily from one atom to
another. Insulators are materials whose atoms have tightly bound electrons.
These electrons are not free to roam around and be shared by neighboring

Some common insulator materials are glass, plastic, rubber, air, and wood.

Insulators are used to protect us from the dangerous effects of electricity
flowing through conductors. Sometimes the voltage in an electrical circuit
can be quite high and dangerous. If the voltage is high enough, electric
current can be made to flow through even materials that are generally not
considered to be good conductors. Our bodies will conduct electricity and
you may have experienced this when you received an electrical shock.
Generally, electricity flowing through the body is not pleasant and can cause
injuries. The function of our heart can be disrupted by a strong electrical
shock and the current can cause burns. Therefore, we need to shield our
bodies from the conductors that carry electricity. The rubbery coating on
wires is an insulating material that shields us from the conductor inside.
Look at any lamp cord and you will see the insulator. If you see the
conductor, it is probably time to replace the cord.

Recall our earlier discussion about resistance. Conductors have a very low
resistance to electrical current while insulators have a very high resistance
to electrical current. These two factors become very important when we
start to deal with actual electrical circuits.


1. Conductors conduct electrical current very easily because of
their free electrons.
2. Insulators oppose electrical current and make poor
3. Some common conductors are copper, aluminum, gold, and
4. Some common insulators are glass, air, plastic, rubber, and


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Define amperes and name the instrument that is used to
measures amperage.
• Construct an experiment to determine the amount of amps
flowing in a circuit.

It is very important to have a way to measure and quantify the flow of
electrical current. When current flow is controlled it can be used to do
useful work. Electricity can be very dangerous and it is important to know
something about it in order to work with it safely. The flow of electrons is
measured in units called amperes. The term amps is often used for short. An
amp is the amount of electrical current that exists when a number of
electrons, having one coulomb (ku`-lum) of charge, move past a given point in
one second. A coulomb is the charge carried by 6.25 x 10^18 electrons. 6.25
x 10^18 is scientific notation for 6,250,000,000,000,000,000. That is a lot
of electrons moving past a given point in one second!

Since we cannot count this fast and we cannot even see the electrons, we
need an instrument to measure the flow of electrons. An ammeter is this
instrument and it is used to indicate how many amps of current are flowing in
an electrical circuit.


1. Amperage is a term used
to describe the number
of electrons moving past
a fixed point in a
conductor in one second.
2. Current is measured in
units called amperes or


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Define EMF and explain how it is measured.
• Explain why EMF is important to the flow of electrical
• List several examples of sources of electromotive force.

We also need to know something about the force that causes the electrons
to move in an electrical circuit. This force is called electromotive force, or
EMF. Sometimes it is convenient to think of EMF as electrical pressure. In
other words, it is the force that makes electrons move in a certain direction
within a conductor.

But how do we create this “electrical pressure” to generate electron flow?
There are many sources of EMF. Some of the more common ones are:
batteries, generators, and photovoltaic cells, just to name a few.

Batteries are constructed so there are too many electrons in one material
and not enough in another material. The electrons want to balance the
electrostatic charge by moving from the material with the excess electrons
to the material with the shortage of electrons. However, they cannot
because there is no conductive path for them to travel. However, if these
two unbalanced materials within the battery are connected together with a
conductor, electrical current will flow as the electron moves from the
negatively charged area to the positively charged area. When you use a
battery, you are allowing electrons to flow from one end of the battery
through a conductor and something like a light bulb to the other end of the
battery. The battery will work until there is a balance of electrons at both
ends of the battery. Caution: you should never connect a conductor to the

two ends of a battery without making the electrons pass through something
like a light bulb which slows the flow of currents. If the electrons are
allowed to flow too fast the conductor will become very hot, and it and the
battery may be damaged.

We will discuss how electrical generators use magnetism to create EMF in a
coming section. Photovoltaic cells turn light energy from sources like the sun
into energy. To understand the photovoltaic process you need to know about
semiconductors so we will not cover them in this material.

Take this link to learn more about the volt: What is a volt?

How does the amp and the volt work together in electricity?

To understand how voltage and amperage are related, it is sometimes useful
to make an analogy with water. Look at the picture here of water flowing in a
garden hose. Think of electricity flowing in a wire in the same way as the
water flowing in the hose. The voltage causing the electrical
current to flow in the wire can be considered the water pressure
at the faucet, which causes the water to flow. If we were to
increase the pressure at the hydrant, more water would flow in
the hose. Similarly, if we increase electrical pressure or
voltage, more electrons would flow in the wire.

Does it also make sense that if we were to remove the
pressure from the hydrant by turning it off, the water would stop flowing?
The same is true with an electrical circuit. If we remove the voltage source,
or EMF, no current will flow in the wires.

Another way of saying this is: without EMF, there will be no current. Also,
we could say that the free electrons of the atoms move in random directions
unless they are pushed or pulled in one direction by an outside force, which
we call electromotive force, or EMF.


1. EMF is electromotive force. EMF causes the electrons to move
in a particular direction.
2. EMF is measured in units called volts.


What is a volt?

Technically (very technically), one volt is defined as the electrostatic
difference between two points when one joule of energy is used to move one
coulomb of charge from one point to the other. We already know that a
coulomb is a lot of electrons flowing past any point in one second, but what is
a joule?

A joule is a measurement of energy. It is the amount of energy that is being
consumed when one watt of power works for one second. This is also known
as a wattsecond.

For our purposes, just accept the fact that one joule of energy is a very,
very small amount of energy. For example, a typical 60-watt light bulb that is
used in a desk or floor lamp is consuming about 60 joules of energy each
second it is on.

In not quite such technical terms, a volt is the difference in the
electrostatic charge that exists between two points. It is this imbalance in
the electrostatic charge that causes electrons to flow from one point to the


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Identify Ohm's law and discuss why it is important.
• Calculate the amount of electric current in a circuit using
Ohm's law.

Probably the most important mathematical relationship between voltage,
current and resistance in electricity is something called “Ohm’s Law”. A man
named George Ohm published this formula in 1827 based on his experiments
with electricity. This formula is used to calculate electrical values so that we
can design circuits and use electricity in a useful manner. Ohm's Law is
shown below.


I = V/R,

I = current, V = voltage, and R = resistance

*Depending on what you are trying to solve we can rearrange it
two other ways.


R = V/I

*All of these variations of Ohm’s Law are mathematically equal
to one another.

Let’s look at what Ohm’s Law tells us. In the first version of the formula, I =
V/R, Ohm's Law tells us that the electrical current flowing in a circuit is
directly proportional to the voltage and inversely proportional to the
resistance. In other words, an increase in the voltage will tend to increase
the current while an increase in resistance will tend to decrease the current.

The second version of the formula tells us that if either the current or the
resistance is increased in the circuit, the voltage will also have to increase.

The third version of the formula tells us that an increase in voltage will
result in an increase in resistance but that an increase in current will result
in a decrease in resistance.

As you can see, voltage, current, and resistance are mathematically, as well
as, physically related to each other. We cannot deal with electricity without
all three of these properties being considered.

(The symbol for an Ohm looks like a horseshoe and is pictured after the
"100" in the diagram above.)


1. Ohm's
Law is
used to

describe the mathematical relationship between voltage,
current, and resistance.


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Define resistance and how we measure it.
• Discuss the similarities between resistance in a wire and the
resistance in a water hose.

There is another important property that can be measured in electrical
systems. This is resistance, which is measured in units called ohms.
Resistance is a term that describes the forces that oppose the flow of
electron current in a conductor. All materials naturally contain some
resistance to the flow of electron current. We have not found a way to make
conductors that do not have some resistance.

If we use our water analogy to help picture resistance, think of a hose that
is partially plugged with sand. The sand will slow the flow of water in the
hose. We can say that the plugged hose has more resistance to water flow
than does an unplugged hose. If we want to get more water out of the hose,
we would need to turn up the water pressure at the hydrant. The same is
true with electricity. Materials with low resistance let electricity flow
easily. Materials with higher resistance require more voltage (EMF) to make
the electricity flow.

The scientific definition of one ohm is the amount of electrical resistance
that exists in an electrical circuit when one amp of current is flowing with
one volt being applied to the circuit.

Is resistance good or bad?

Resistance can be both good and bad. If we are trying to transmit
electricity from one place to another through a conductor, resistance is
undesirable in the conductor. Resistance causes some of the electrical
energy to turn into heat so some electrical energy is lost along the way.
However, it is resistance that allows us to use electricity for heat and light.
The heat that is generated from electric heaters or the light that we get
from light bulbs is due to resistance. In a light bulb, the electricity flowing
through the filament, or the tiny wires inside the bulb, cause them to glow

white hot. If all the oxygen were not removed from inside the bulb, the
wires would burn up.

An important point to mention here is that the resistance is higher in
smaller wires. Therefore, if the voltage or EMF is high, too much current will
follow through small wires and make them hot. In some cases hot enough to
cause a fire or even explode. Therefore, it is sometimes useful to add
components called resistors into an electrical circuit to slow the flow of
electricity and protect of the components in the circuit.

Resistance is also good because it gives us a way to shield ourselves from the
harmful energy of electricity. We will talk more about this on the next page.


1. Resistance is the opposition to electrical current.
2. Resistance is measured in units called ohms.
3. Resistance is sometimes desirable and sometimes undesirable.


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Explain how a circuit is formed.
• List examples of sources that the voltage for any electrical
circuit can come from.
• Compare the differences between kinetic and potential
• Discuss what would happen if a resistor was not included in a

When we connect various components together with wires, we create an
electric circuit. The electrons must have a voltage source to create their
movement and, of course, they need a path in which to travel. This path must
be complete from the EMF source, through the other components and then
back to the EMF source.

The voltage for any electric circuit can come from many different sources.
Some common examples are: batteries, power plants, fuel cells.

Power Plant Light

Car Battery Fuel Cell

When we plug an appliance into a wall outlet, voltage and current are
available to us. That voltage is actually created in a power plant somewhere
else and then delivered to your house by the power wires that are on poles
or buried underground.

As a matter of fact, since no current can flow unless there is a voltage
source, we also refer to these sources as current sources. In other words,
without the voltage source, there will be no current flowing. This makes it a
current source instead of a voltage source.

Batteries create voltage through a chemical process. Power plants generate
electricity from numerous mechanical methods. Some burn coal or gas to
create steam while others use water flowing through a dam on a lake. There
are also nuclear-powered generating power plants. All of these power-
generating systems turn large turbines that turn the shaft on a generator.
All of these sources of electricity convert something called potential energy
to kinetic energy. The potential energy is stored in the fuel, whether it is
coal, gas, uranium, water in a dam, etc. When we utilize these fuels to
generate electricity, they become kinetic energy.

We might say that potential energy is waiting to be used while kinetic energy
is being used.

In addition to the voltage source, we need to have wires and other
components to build an electric circuit. Remember that copper wires are
conductors since they can easily conduct the flow of electrons. We may also
use resistors or other forms of loads to form a complete circuit. If we did
not include resistors in our circuit, there may be too much current flowing to
and from our voltage source and we could damage the voltage source.


1. Wires and various components connected together form a
2. Power plants and fuel cells are some examples of sources that
the voltage for any electrical circuit can come from.


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Explain what circuit diagrams are used for.
• Identify what the symbols in the circuit diagrams stand for.

Circuit diagrams are a pictorial way of showing circuits. Electricians and
engineers draw circuit diagrams to help them design the actual circuits.
Here is an example circuit diagram.

The important thing to note on this diagram is what everything stands for.
You see that there are straight lines that connect each of the symbols
together. Those lines represent a wire.

This is the Ammeter symbol.

This is the Voltmeter symbol.

This is the resistor symbol.

This is the switch symbol.

This is the battery symbol.

The important thing to remember about this symbol is that the long bar on
top represents the positive terminal on a battery while the short bar on the
bottom represents the negative terminal.

Below is the actual circuit made from the circuit diagram above. Pay close
attention to see how similar the diagram and the real circuit looks.


In the next sub-unit you will be creating your own circuits from a circuit
diagram as you learn about what series and parallel circuits are. However,
before you do, there are two more symbols you will need to learn.

This is the capacitor symbol.

A capacitor is used to store electrical charge. An example would be a timer.
We will not use this symbol but note that this symbol is very common in
circuit diagrams.

This is the symbol for the light bulb.


1. Circuit diagrams are used to show how all the components
connect together to make a circuit.


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Define a series circuit, and list the components needed to
make it.
• Construct a simple and complex series circuit.
• Define what a load is.

Try building this simple series circuit

In the interactive box (applet) below, you will need to place the correct
circuit components (i.e. battery, light bulb, etc.) on the correct diagram
symbol by dragging them with your mouse.

Congratulations! You have just built an electric circuit. Notice that when you
close the switch to complete the electrical circuit, the electrons start
moving and the ammeter indicates that there is current flowing in this
circuit. Also notice that the light bulb begins to glow. This happens because

the electrons moving through the tiny wires in the bulb (or filament) make
them become so hot that they glow. If there is any air inside the light bulb,
the filament wires will burn up.

What you have just created is something called a series circuit. This is
called a series circuit because there is only one path for the electrons to
take between any two points in this circuit. In other words, the components,
which are the battery, the switch, the ammeter, and light, are all in “series”
with each other.

Load defined

The light bulb is considered a load in this circuit. You might think of a load
as anything that is using the energy that is being delivered by the electric
current in a circuit. It could be anything from a light bulb to a computer to a
washing machine and so on.

Try building a series circuit with resistors

Let’s build another series circuit, but this time we will use some resistors
instead of a light bulb. Resistors are components that are used to control
that amount of current flowing in a circuit. The light bulb in the first circuit
was actually acting like a resistor because it only allowed a certain amount of
current to flow through it. If there are no resistors or components that act
like resistors to slow the flow of electrical current, too much current may
flow through the circuit and damage its components or wires. Too much
current flowing through a component results in the generation of heat that
can melt the conductive path through which the electrons are flowing. This
in known as a short circuit and is the reason fuses or circuit breakers are
often included in a circuit.

Congratulations! You have just build a more complex series circuit. We
cannot see any work being done since there is no light bulb, but there is
current actually flowing inside. We know the current is flowing because the
ammeter is indicating this. It is important to know that we may not be able
to tell whether current is flowing through a circuit without test equipment,
such as our ammeter connected to the circuit. Electricity can be very
dangerous and experiments like these should never be conducted without
adult supervision. Never work with electricity unless you are trained to know
how to work with it safely.


1. When all the components are in line with each other and the
wires, a series circuit is formed.
2. A load is any device in a circuit that is using the energy that
the electron current is delivering to it


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Define a parallel circuit and explain how it compares to a
series circuit.
• Construct a parallel circuit.
• Explain what a voltmeter does and how it is different from an

Like the series circuit, parallel circuits also contain a voltage (current)
source as well as wires and other components. The main difference between
a series circuit and a parallel circuit is in the way the components are
connected. In a parallel circuit the electricity has several paths that it can

Try building this simple parallel circuit

Congratulations! You have just built a parallel circuit. Notice that when you
closed the switch, the electrons flowed through both loads at the same time.
In our series circuit, all the electrons flowed through all the components in
order. With the parallel circuit, some electrons go through one load and
some go through the other load, all at the same time. At point A, the total
current splits up and takes different paths before the circuit joins back
together again at point B.

A parallel circuit exists whenever two or more components are connected
between the same two points. Those two points in this circuit are points A
and B. Both resistors connect to both points A and B.

Each parallel path is called a branch of the parallel circuit.

Try building this parallel circuit, now including a voltmeter

This parallel circuit contains 3 branches (two resistors and a voltmeter),
which means the electron current goes through all three branches at the
same time. We put a voltmeter on this second circuit to show an important
fact. In the last 4 circuits you made, you included an ammeter into them.
Ammeters must always be placed in series in a circuit, otherwise they will
not work. The voltmeter we added in the last circuit has a different
requirement in order to work. Voltmeters must be placed in parallel with the
circuit in order to work. This is because voltage meters measure the
difference in electromotive force (EMF) from one area to another. They are
used to measure the difference in EMF on one side of a component compared
to the other side of the component. In our homes, most circuits contain 120
volts of EMF.


1. When some of the components are connected parallel with
each other, they form a parallel circuit.
2. A voltmeter must be wired in parallel in a circuit in order to
measure the difference in EMF from one point to another.


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Explain what a series/parallel circuit is and what components
are needed to complete it.
• Construct a series/parallel circuit.

When we have a circuit in which some of the components are in series and
others are in parallel, we have a series/parallel circuit.

Try building a series/parallel circuit

Notice in this series/parallel circuit that the resistors R1, the switch, the
battery, and the ammeter are in series with each other while resistors R2

and R3 are in parallel with each other. We might also say that the R2/R3
combination is in series with the rest of the components in this circuit. This
is a very common circuit configuration. Many circuits have various
combinations of series and parallel components.

If we apply Ohm’s law to any of these series or parallel circuits, we can
calculate the current flowing at any point in the circuits.


1. Some circuits contain series and parallel components. These
are called series/parallel circuits.


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Explain what DC stands for and what it means.
• Define what a good source of DC would be.

Now that we have a fairly good understanding of basic electricity terms and
concepts, let's take a closer look at some more details of the electrical
current itself.

The battery we have been using for a current/voltage source generates
direct current, which simply means the current flows in only one direction.

As long as electrons are flowing through the atoms of the circuit, work is
being done. We can see that work is being done in this circuit because it
lights the light bulb. The actual amount of electrons that are flowing is
determined by the type and size of the battery as well as by the size and
type of the light bulb. We could reverse the polarity of the battery by
switching the contacts (wires), and the current would flow in the opposite
direction and the bulb would still light.

Either way the battery is connected to the circuit, current can only flow in
one direction. Direct current (DC) can also be generated by means other
than batteries. Solar cells, fuel cells, and even some types of generators can
provide DC current.


1. DC, or direct current means the electrical current is flowing in
only one direction in a circuit.
2. Batteries are a good source of direct current (DC).


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Define what AC stands for and what it means.
• Explain how AC is created and delivered to different places.
• Discuss the differences between AC and DC.

AC is short for alternating current. This means that the direction of
current flowing in a circuit is constantly being reversed back and forth. This
is done with any type of AC current/voltage source.

The electrical current in your house is alternating current. This comes from
power plants that are operated by the electric company. Those big wires you
see stretching across the countryside are carrying AC current from the
power plants to the loads, which are in our homes and businesses. The
direction of current is switching back and forth 60 times each second.

This is a series circuit
using an AC source of
electricity. Notice that
the light bulb still
lights but the electron
current is constantly
reversing directions.
The change in direction
of the current flow
happens so fast that
the light bulb does not
have a chance to stop
glowing. The light bulb

does not care if it is using DC or AC current. The circuit is delivering energy
to the light bulb from the source, which, in this case, is a power plant.


1. AC, or alternating current means the electrical current is
alternating directions in a repetitive pattern.
2. AC is created by generators in power plants, and other
sources. This AC current is delivered to our homes and
businesses by the power lines we see everywhere.
3. The frequency of repetition of this current is 60 Hertz. This
means the direction of the current changes sixty times every


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Describe how a magnetic field is created.

• Explain how the electromagnet and the solenoid work

In 1820, a Danish scientist named Hans Oersted discovered that a magnetic
compass could be deflected from its resting position if a wire carrying
electric current were placed near the compass. This deflection of the
compass only occurred when current was flowing in the wire. When current
was stopped, the compass returned to its resting position.

Magnetic Field

This graphic seems to
indicate that any wire
in which an electric
current is flowing is
surrounded by an
invisible force field
called a magnetic field.
For this reason, any
time we deal with
current flowing in a
circuit, we must also
consider the effects of
this magnetic field. We
have all probably had
experiences with
magnets at one time or another. Magnets attract certain types of material
like iron but almost nothing else.


The term electromagnetism is defined as the production of a magnetic field
by current flowing in a conductor. We will need to understand
electromagnetism in greater detail to understand how it can be used to do

Coiling a current-carrying conductor around a core material that can be
easily magnetized, such as iron, can form an electromagnet. The magnetic
field will be concentrated in the core. This arrangement is called a solenoid.
The more turns we wrap on this core, the stronger the electromagnet and
the stronger the magnetic lines of force become.


We have created an electromagnet, which behaves just like a regular
permanent bar magnet when the current is flowing. Notice that all of the
lines of force pass through the center of the core material, regardless of
how they extend outside the coil of wire. The direction of magnetic polarity
is determined by the direction of current flowing in the coil of wire. The
direction that the wire is coiled around the core also determines the
direction of magnetic polarity. This is important to know if we want to use
the electromagnet to apply a force to another material.

In the next sub-unit you will learn how the electrostatic field and field
intensity are related to electromagnetism.


1. A magnetic field is generated anytime an electrical current
flows through a conductor.
2. The magnetic field around the conductor flows in closed loops.
3. Wrapping the wire into a coil creates an electromagnet.

4. Wrapping the wire around a piece of iron creates a solenoid.


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Compare the definitions of a magnetic field (from the previous
page) and an electrostatic field.
• Describe what field intensity is and how it is determined.
• Explain the "right-hand rule."

Electrostatic Field

Remember that electrons have a negative electrostatic field surrounding
them. When energy from a power source such as a battery is applied to a
circuit, making the electrons flow through a conductor, a new type of field is
developed around the wire. This is called an electromagnetic field. You can
learn more about why this field develops in the materials about magnetism.

As we can see in the diagram below, the magnetic field that surrounds a
current-carrying conductor is made up of concentric lines of force. The
strength of these circular lines of force gets progressively smaller the
further away from the conductor we get. Also, if a stronger current is made
to flow through the conductor, the magnetic lines of force become stronger.
As a matter of fact, we can say that the strength of the magnetic field is
directly proportional to the current that flows through the conductor.

Field Intensity

The term field intensity is used to describe the strength of the magnetic
field. From now on we will use this new term to describe this field that is
developed around a conductor that is carrying electrical current.

We have determined that this magnetic force field is a result of current
flowing in a conductor. We have also shown that the field is circular in shape.
What we do not yet know is what direction the circular field is in.

Field Direction (The Right-hand Rule)

A number of different rules have been developed to help determine the
direction of the magnetic field relative to the current. “The right-hand
rule” is the simplest to remember and can be used to
determine the direction of the electromagnetic field around
a current carrying conductor. With this rule when the
thumb of the right-hand is pointing in the direction of
current flow, the fingers will be pointing in the direction of
the magnetic field.


1. Field intensity is a term used to describe the
strength of the electromagnetic field.
2. Field intensity is determined by the amount of electrical
current flowing in the wire.
3. The right-hand rule can be used to describe the direction of
the electromagnetic field.


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Explain how current can be induced in a conductor without
making contact.

• Describe the process of induction.

We have now seen
that if electrical
current is flowing
in a conductor,
there is an
magnetic field
created around
the wire. In a
similar manner, if
we move a wire
inside a magnetic
field there will be
an electrical
current that will
be generated in
the wire.


Current is produced in a conductor when it is moved through a magnetic field
because the magnetic lines of force are applying a force on the free
electrons in the conductor and causing them to move. This process of
generating current in a conductor by placing the conductor in a changing
magnetic field is called induction. This is called induction because there is no
physical connection between the conductor and the magnet. The current is
said to be induced in the conductor by the magnetic field.

One requirement for this electromagnetic induction to take place is that the
conductor, which is often a piece of wire, must be perpendicular to the
magnetic lines of force in order to produce the maximum force on the free
electrons. The direction that the induced current flows is determined by the
direction of the lines of force and by the direction the wire is moving in the
field. In the animation above our ammeter (the instrument used to measure
current) only indicates when there is current in the conductor but it does
not indicate current direction like most other ammeters.

If an AC current is fed through a piece of wire, the electromagnetic field
that is produced is constantly growing and shrinking due to the constantly
changing current in the wire. This growing and shrinking magnetic field can
induce electrical current in another wire that is held close to the first wire.
The current in the second wire will also be AC and in fact will look very
similar to the current flowing in the first wire.

It is common to wrap the wire into a coil to concentrate the strength of the
magnetic field at the ends of the coil. Wrapping the coil around an iron bar
will further concentrate the magnetic field in the iron bar. The magnetic
field will be strongest inside the bar and at its ends (poles).

Take this link if you want to learn how a transformer is created: Creating a


1. If we move a conductor in a magnetic field, a current is
induced in the conductor (wire).
2. An AC current in a coil of wire can induce an AC current in
another nearby coil of wire.


What is a transformer composed of?

As you just read in the last page, it is common to wrap the wire into a coil to
concentrate the strength of the magnetic field at the ends of the coil.
Wrapping the coil around an iron bar will further concentrate the magnetic
field in the iron bar. The magnetic field will be strongest inside the bar and
at its ends (poles).

If we were to take this concept one step further and wind the second wire
into a coil on the same iron bar as the first coil, we would create the
strongest magnetic coupling of the two wires. When an AC current is flowing
in one of the coils, a similar current is induced into the second coil. Even
though no direct electrical connection exists between the two coils, we can
induce electrical current in this manner. We often use this arrangement of
coils to take the electrical current flowing in the first coil and change it in
someway that is more useful for doing work. This is what is called a

As we can see in the above experiment, transformers have at least two
windings or coils. One is called the primary, the other the secondary. The
primary coil is where AC current is fed in. The secondary coil is where the
current is induced to perform some sort of transfer of energy. In this case
the current is used to light a light bulb. There are many types of
transformers in existence. This is a very simple example. The iron bar core
helps to transfer more of the magnetic energy from the primary coil to the
secondary coil.

How does mutual induction work?

The secondary coil is also
generating a magnetic field
that is growing and
shrinking just like the field
in the primary coil. This
coupling of magnetic
energy between these two
coils is called mutual
induction. Mutual induction
describes the fact that
these two coils share the
magnetic lines of force
that are being generated
by both coils. In other words, both coils are being affected by each other’s
induced magnetic fields. The results of this mutual coupling can be quite
complex. We will only deal with this concept as it applies to nondestructive
testing principles.


After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

• Explain what an Eddy Current is.
• Discuss the one requirement necessary for a current to be
induced into an object.

In the discussion on the previous page you learned learned about
electromagnetic induction. You learned that anytime a conductor was placed
in a changing magnetic field that electrical current was generated in the
conductor. We talked about the conductor being a piece of wire that is
often wrapped into a coil, but the conductor does not need to be in the
shape of a coil and does not even need to be wire. It could be a piece of flat
steel, aluminum plate, or any other conductive object. The only requirement
is that the object must be able to conduct electrical current.

When current is induced in a conductor such as the square piece of metal
shown above, the induced current often flows in small circles that are

strongest at the surface and penetrate a short distance into the material.
These current flow patterns are thought to resemble eddies in a stream,
which are the tornado looking swirls of the water that we sometimes see.
Because of this presumed resemblance, the electrical currents were named
eddy currents.

Uses of eddy currents

Just like in our transformer experiment, these induced eddy currents
generate their own magnetic field. After all, this is an actual electrical
current and any current flowing in a conductor produces a magnetic field,
right? The detection and measurements of the strength of the magnetic
fields produced by the eddy currents makes it possible for us to learn things
about conductive materials without even contacting them. For example, the
electrical conductivity of a material can be determined by the strength of
the eddy currents that form. Also since cracks and other breaks in the
surface of a material will prevent eddy currents from forming in that region
of the surface, eddy currents can be used to detect cracks in materials.
This is referred to as eddy current testing in the field of nondestructive
testing (NDT). NDT technicians and engineers use eddy current testing to
find cracks and other flaws in part of airplanes and other systems where
bad things can happen if the part breaks. On the next page you will learn
more about eddy current testing and be able to try an inspection yourself.


1. Any electrically conductive object will conduct an induced
current if it is placed in a changing magnetic field.
2. Eddy currents are circular induced currents.
3. Eddy currents generate their own magnetic fields.