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Can you really say "making" electricity?

  1. Dec 16, 2016 #1
    I would generally avoid saying this, but it comes up a lot in the popular sites...
    What do people think?

    Bob
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 16, 2016 #2

    chiro

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    Hey BobBobinoff.

    In physics, we look at taking existing energy and dissipating it.

    This whole conservation of energy theorem [and many other conservation theorems in physics] is how we make sense of the physical world.

    You have to understand how energy is defined and then how it is used to change one state to another - and this is the study of dynamics.
     
  4. Dec 16, 2016 #3

    BvU

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    Hello Bob2inoff, :welcome:

    Sure, why not? We also say 'make a table' when we convert a few boards and beams into such a piece of furniture.

    But I think I know what you mean: as a physicist, I would object a bit more against phrasing 'making energy', for example.
     
  5. Dec 16, 2016 #4

    phinds

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    Yes, it makes perfectly good sense. Perhaps what you are objecting to without stating it explicitly is the concept of electricity being a form of "making electrons" which it generally is NOT, it is a process of getting existing electrons to move.
     
  6. Dec 16, 2016 #5
    make/māk/
    verb
    1. form (something) by putting parts together or combining substances; construct; create.
    2. cause (something) to exist or come about; bring about.
    3. compel (someone) to do something.
    4. constitute; amount to.
    5. gain or earn (money or profit).
    6. arrive at (a place) within a specified time or in time for (a train or other transport).
    7. go or prepare to go in a particular direction.
    8. induce (someone) to have sexual intercourse with one.
    9. (in bridge, whist, and similar games) win (a trick).
    10. (of the tide) begin to flow or ebb.

    I think by definition #2 it's a perfectly OK thing to say.
     
  7. Dec 16, 2016 #6

    collinsmark

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    I think it's fine, but it's really a question of grammar. Such a statement, in my eyes, is really short for "Is it possible to make electrical systems?" Which of course the answer is "yes. " (Look around at modern technology, from computers to cell phones to digital cameras to almost any gadget these days, along with the conventional, electrical power distribution systems; they all involve electrical systems, and they're all man-made.)

    It's like asking, "can you make hydraulics?" or "can you make pneumatics?" Well, grammar aside, I think we can all agree on that it is possible to make hydraulic systems and pneumatic systems.

    If you're worried about being technically accurate -- grammar and all -- I would stick to the phrasing of "making electrical systems." But if somebody said "making electricity," I wouldn't be too hard on them; I know what they mean.
     
  8. Dec 16, 2016 #7

    phinds

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    I disagree. I read the question very literally. It's asking about MAKING electricity. You are talking about USING electricity which is a whole different thing and one that I don't see him disagreeing with.
     
  9. Dec 16, 2016 #8

    BillTre

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    I would say its OK to talk about making electricity in cases like when a battery uses chemical energy to make electrical current flow.
     
  10. Dec 16, 2016 #9

    phinds

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    and not when a generator makes electric current flow ?
     
  11. Dec 16, 2016 #10

    BillTre

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    That would be another example I was considering but I was not intending to comprehensive, just giving a single example.
    There are probably others (like fuel cells?).
     
  12. Dec 17, 2016 #11

    epenguin

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    Strictly wrong I guess to say we make electricity. We make it flow mostly. For example using battery we make electric charge from one kind of atom to another kind.

    I have never questioned it before but having to explain it here I began to dislike expressions like 'charging a capacitor', or 'charge on a capacitor' etc. We don't put any charge on a capacitor and it isn't really charged, charges in atoms have just been moved away from each other a small distance inside it.
     
  13. Dec 18, 2016 #12
    I disagree with this because by this logic we cannot say we make anything. As BvU pointed out above, if it's OK to say we "make" a table, then it's OK to say we "make" electricity. By saying he has made a table, there is no claim made by the woodworker to having made the wood from which he made the table, or of having made the molecules and atoms in the wood, much less the sub atomic particles in those atoms. "Making" electricity simply means to cause it to come about in pretty much the same sense a woodworker causes a table to come about.
     
  14. Dec 18, 2016 #13

    BvU

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    Care to explain that a bit further ? I always thought the charge equivalent of 'actual charges in atoms' are moved to the other side of the dielectric, which on an atomic scale is an enormous distance.
     
  15. Dec 18, 2016 #14
    This is just a language question; and language boils down to appropriate usage by particular persons for particular purposes.

    Some introductory physics texts (I'll use "University Physics," 13th ed., as an example) will use the term "electricity" at the start of a chapter to introduce what is essentially current; e.g. "The copper wire is called a conductor of electricity," etc. etc. Or they will use the term as part of the phrase "static electricity." And also to distinguish between "electricity" and "magnetism." And yes - also to talk about "making" electricity, e.g. this problem from p. 683, "20.45: An experimental power plant at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii generates electricity from the temperature gradient of the ocean," etc. etc. Yes, they are a little more technical with "generating" rather than "making"; but in ordinary language, "making" would be considered very nearly a synonym.

    However an argument has been made by William Beatty, a vocal & passionate EE, that the root word here, "electricity", has been used in so many different ways by so many different persons, expert and non-expert alike, that it has become ambiguous to the point of contradiction. Beatty has an entire web site devoted to educating laypersons on the arresting weirdness of electromagnetism as described by physics, versus the bland fallacies that are commonly taught in public schools. Here's a few articles from his site that touch upon the word 'electricity' in particular:

    What is Electricity?
    Contradictory Definitions (What is Electricity?)
    Electricity is Not a Form of Energy
    Come On, What is Electricity, Really?
    Misconceptions Spread by K-6 Textbooks: "Electricity"

    And from the first linked article above, here is how he addresses the question of "Do generators make electricity?"

    Do generators make electricity? To answer this question, consider the household light bulb. Inside a lamp cord the charges (the electrons) sit in one place and wiggle back and forth. That's AC or alternating current. At the same time, the waves of electromagnetic field move rapidly forward. This wave-energy does not wiggle, instead it races along the wires as it flows from the distant generators and into the light bulb. OK, now ask yourself this: when "electricity" is flowing, is it called an Electric Current? Yes? If so, then "electricity" is simply the charges already inside the wires, where a flow of electricity is a flow of charge. And therefore we must say that the "electricity" sits inside the wires and vibrates back and forth. Generators do not create any, and electricity does not flow forward through the wires

    Next, ask yourself if electricity is a form of energy. If it's energy, then electricity is not the movable charges. Instead, electricity is made of invisible electromagnetic fields, and it doesn't wiggle back and forth within the AC cables. Instead it can only exist in the space outside the wires, and not within the metal. Generators do create electricity, and it races along the wires at high speed. Yet please note that Electricity cannot do both, it cannot be both the charges and the fields, the electrons and the energy. So which one is really "the electricity?" Is it the wiggling electrons within the wires? Or is it the high-speed EM field energy? The experts unfortunately cannot agree on a narrow definition. The reference books give conflicting answers, so there *is* no answer.

    [So] if someone asks whether generators make electricity, it exposes a great flaw in the way we talk about "electricity". If we can repair this flaw, perhaps our explanations will finally make sense.
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2016
  16. Dec 18, 2016 #15

    epenguin

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    You're right, yes on an atomic scale it is, but on the scale of someone carefully holding a 'charged' capacitor in his hand, it is neutral - just inside it the charges are separated a small distance.
     
  17. Dec 18, 2016 #16
    It's the convention in electronics that "charge" as both noun & verb refers to separated or uncanceled charge rather than canceled or neutral charge. It would be tiresome to have to continually add the qualifier, so people don't. This is another case of usage varying by purpose & audience.

    Of course if persons have had a haphazard education in electronics, e.g. DIY, they might get the wrong idea. Beatty, who I mentioned in my previous post, speaks to this concern here: http://amasci.com/miscon/curstat2.html
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2016
  18. Dec 18, 2016 #17
    Your guy makes a fundamental error right off the bat, and it is the source of all his problems:

    His error is that he thinks that when a word has more than one meaning it must mean all the separate meanings at the same time. In fact, a word only has one meaning at a time, as determined by the context. Consider:

    horse/hôrs/
    noun
    1. a solid-hoofed plant-eating domesticated mammal with a flowing mane and tail, used for riding, racing, and to carry and pull loads.
    2. a frame or structure on which something is mounted or supported, especially a sawhorse.
    3. heroin.
    4. a unit of horsepower.
    5. an obstruction in a vein.
    Can you really say someone can "ride" a horse? I mean, aren't the different meanings incompatible, and isn't everyone completely confused when anyone says "horse"? Only if they somehow think a word has to simultaneously mean all its different meanings, which is not the case.
     
  19. Dec 18, 2016 #18
    Might I suggest that you read one of his pieces in full, warts and all, if you'd like to understand his point of view and what he's trying to say?
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2016
  20. Dec 18, 2016 #19
    Electricity is an umbrella term encompassing concepts like current, voltage, power, conductance and resistance and other electromagnetic phenomena. Electricity is a fundamental property of all matter that can be exploited(better in some, not so much in others).

    . The organised flow of electrons is what causes current. Even then, electrons don't flow like water, rather they bounce from one atom to the other, like a line of people.

    ELECTRICITY IS HARD, its a very abstract concept and not even the best engineers and physicists haven't struggled to understand it.

    Do you make electricity? IDK. you just take what is there and exploit it.
     
  21. Dec 18, 2016 #20
    Does an oil well make oil? Does an electric generator make electricity? Are these two questions referring to equivalent examples?

    Should we require that we never say "electric generator" or just "generator" and always say "electric current generator"? If something is "generated", can we also say that something is "made"? Is there some profound aspect of this thread that I'm missing?
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2016
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