# Electric current Electrical current is the net flow of charge per second. This is somewhat like current when talking about water flow. In water flow,

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Electric current Electrical current is the net flow of charge per second. This is somewhat like current when talking about water flow. In water flow, the current often refers to the speed of the flow, but it is the total flow rate (gallons per second) that is most like electrical current. One Ampere is defined as 1 Coulomb of charge per second. One Coulomb is equal to about 6.25 billion-billion electrons. (No, that wasn't a typo...)

Electric current A current of 0.5 A flows through a light bulb for 1 minute. How much charge flowed during this time?

Electric current The electrons are moving randomly because of temperature. They are about 1800 times less massive than a hydrogen atom, and hydrogen atoms are moving randomly at about 1800 m/s, so electrons are moving randomly at about 75,000 m/s. But it is their drift velocity, the net motion in one direction, that is important for current. (This is like the difference between the random molecular motion of air molecules and the wind speed.) In a typical household current in a typical wire, how fast are the electrons drifting? A) At the speed of light. B) As fast as a supersonic jet. C) As fast as a racecar. D) As fast as a person walks. E) As fast as a snail crawls.

Electric current How fast are those electrons drifting? In a typical household current: A) At the speed of light. B) As fast as a supersonic jet. C) As fast as a racecar. D) As fast as a person walks. E) As fast as a snail crawls. Yeah, that's pretty slow. Then why does the light turn on so fast when you flip the switch?

Electric potential Why is the water stored so high up? It took work to lift it up there. That work is stored as potential energy. When the water is allowed to flow down a pipe and out, it is moving fast because the potential energy has been converted to kinetic energy. Notice what matters here is the difference of the height at which it was stored and the height at which it is used. Similarly, when charges have been separated, work was done. The stored energy per charge is the electric potential difference or sometimes just called the potential.

Electric potential Consider a whole field of water balloons. The ones thrown the highest will be moving the fastest when they come back down.

Electric potential Now consider two water tanks. Water from the tank that was raised higher will be moving faster when it exits the pipe. Similarly, if we put more work into separating charges, we will give them greater potential. The charges with higher potential will be moving faster when we let them go in the completed circuit, if everything else is held to be the same.

Circuits: voltage and current
Each location along a circuit has a certain potential. The difference in potential across the circuit causes current to flow. A potential difference pushes current through a circuit, analogous to pressure from a pump pushing water through a pipe. The water pump behaves much like a battery does for electric potential. The water pump forces water to a region of higher gravitational potential energy. A battery forces electrical charges to a region of higher electrical potential energy. A region of higher electrical potential is a region of higher electric potential energy for positive charges, and a region of lower electric potential energy for negative charges.

Voltage = current x resistance
Now we need to consider resistance. Think of resistance as something that tends to slow down the current, like constricting the diameter of the water pipe. The more resistance you give the circuit, the lower the current will be. A good conductor has low resistance. A good insulator has very high resistance. A semiconductor falls between the two. Resistance is measured in Ohms, and is given the symbol Ω. V = I R Voltage = current x resistance Volts = Amps x Ohms How much current will flow through a light bulb that has a resistance of 60 Ω when it is connected to a 12 V battery?

Circuits: resistance Electrical resistance is the property of a material that resists electrical current. Ohm’s Law: Current = voltage / resistance Current units: 1 Ampere (A) = 1coulomb / second Resistance units: 1 Ohm () = 1V / A

Circuits: resistance Electrical resistance is the property of a material that resists electrical current. Ohm’s Law: Current = voltage / resistance Current units: 1 Ampere (A) = 1coulomb / second Resistance units: 1 Ohm () = 1V / A

Give students a battery, a wire, and a light bulb.
Have them light the bulb. Build a circuit to show answer on PhET

Electric circuits Which of these configurations will light the bulb?

Electric circuits What is the ratio of the currents of these two circuits?

Electric circuits What is the ratio of the currents of these two circuits?

Series circuits Electrons gain energy when they pass through the battery. They must lose all of their potential energy by the time they get back to the battery. Series circuits are those where the components of the circuit lie along the same path. The electrons lose potential energy (there is a Voltage drop) each time they move through the filament of a light bulb.

Parallel circuits In a parallel circuit, each branch has a separate path to the battery. This means that each branch of a parallel circuit has the same voltage difference. In other words, the Voltage drop is equal across parallel branches. Resistance increases as bulbs or resistors are connected in series. Resistance decreases as bulbs or resistors are connected in parallel.

Current through a light bulb
This cutaway diagram of a light bulb illustrates how the wires are connected through the filament.

AC and DC current There are two types of current, direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). For direct current, the electrons simply flow along the wire. This is the kind of current you get in a circuit where a battery is the power source. With alternating current, electrons flow one way, then switch and flow back the other way, then switch again, etc. This switching happens many times per second, at a frequency of 60 Hz in the US.

AC and DC current We use alternating current for carrying current over long distances because it is easy to use transformers to step up and step down the voltages. This means that power can be transported at high voltage and then stepped down for use in your home. Standard AC voltage is 120 V in the US. This is actually the root mean square (rms) value. The true amplitude is actually about 170 V.

Electric power Power = current x voltage
An electron moving through a circuit has some potential energy, imparted to it from the power source. It suffers a voltage drop as it passes through a component like a resistor or a light bulb. We define the power as the product of current and voltage. Power = current x voltage Watts (J/sec) = Amperes (C/sec) x Volts (J/C) 1 kW = 1000 W = 1000 J/s 1 kW-hr = 1000 J/s x 3600 s = 3,600,000 J P = I V = (V/R) V = V2/R = I2 R If a 120-V line to a socket is limited to 15 A by a safety fuse (or circuit breaker), will it operate a 1200-W hair dryer? Will it operate two hair dryers? At 10¢/kW-hr, what does it cost to operate the 1200-W hair dryer for 1 hr? EWEB rates

Do the electric circuit lab

Assume the bulbs are identical
Assume the bulbs are identical. What will be the relative order of brightness of the bulbs in each of these circuits?

Assume the bulbs are identical
Assume the bulbs are identical. What will be the relative order of brightness of the bulbs in each of these circuits?

Assume the bulbs are identical
Assume the bulbs are identical. What will be the relative order of brightness of the bulbs in each of these circuits?

Conceptual questions If an electric current flows from one object to another what can we say about the relative magnitudes of the electric potentials of the two objects? 2) Is a current-carrying wire electrically charged? 3) Sometimes you hear someone say that a particular appliance "uses up" electricity. What is it that the appliance actually uses up and what becomes of it? 4) An electron moving in a wire collides again and again with atoms and travels an average distance between collisions that is called the mean free path. If the mean free path is less in some metals, what can you say about the resistance of these metals? For a given conductor, what can you do to lengthen the mean free path? 5) Why is the current in an incandescent bulb greater immediately after it is turned on, than it is a few moments later?

Conceptual questions 6) A simple lie detector consists of an electric circuit, one part of which is part of your body--like from one finger to another. A sensitive meter shows the current that flows when a small voltage is applied. How does this technique indicate that a person is lying? (And when does this technique not tell when someone is lying?) 7) If a current of one- or two-tenths of an ampere flows into one of your hands and out the other, you will probably be electrocuted. But if the same current flows into your hand and out the elbow above the same hand, you can survive even though the current may be large enough to burn your flesh. Explain. 8) Are automobile headlights wired in parallel or in series? 9) Estimate the number of electrons that a power company delivers annually to the homes of a typical city of 50,000 people. 10) If electrons flow very slowly through a circuit, why does it not take a noticeably long time for a lamp to glow when you turn on a distant switch?

Conceptual questions 11) Rearrange the equation Current = voltage/resistance to express resistance in terms of current and voltage. Then solve the following: A certain device in a 120 V circuit has a current rating of 30 A. What is the resistance of the device (how many ohms)? 12) A 7 W night light is plugged into a 120 V circuit and operates continuously for 1 year. Find the following: the current it draws (b) the resistance of its filament (c) the energy consumed in a year (d) the cost of its operation for a year at the utility rate of \$0.08/kWh

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