What is electricity made out of?

  • #1
doglover9754
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For starters, it’s like 11 pm and I just had to ask this question so please bear with me if what I’m asking is confusing. So my question is what is electricity made out of. Atom wise. I know I probably could’ve Googled this but I figured why not ask this for everyone’s benefit. I figured hey, everything is made out of atoms right? Well, according to my 6th grade science teacher. Well, if electricity isn’t made out of atoms, it’s it the result of atoms “not agreeing with each other”? I’m thinking more about lightning not like electricity in a power plant. It’d be great if someone could help and answer my question and put my mind at ease.
 

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  • #2
Borek
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The idea of googling before asking a question was the best part of your post, sad that you didn't follow that path.

everything is made out of atoms
That's how we often say, but it is not the whole truth. Every material object you deal with - be it car or carrot - is made of atoms. But is disaster made of atoms? Multiplication? English language? Definitely not.

Check what is the definition of electricity.
 
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  • #3
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One can say that it is made of coal burned in power plants but a bit more sophisticated answer is that it is made of electric charges moving somewhere.
These charges are usually (but not always) electrons (and these are just component parts of atoms but can also exist independent of these). Electrons can move in various environments (including vacuum of space) but for everyday purpose they are usually moving in wires made of conductor, usually metal.
Moving electrons have certain degree of energy, so electricity can be useful for energy transfer purposes.
 
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  • #4
Borek
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it is made of electric charges moving somewhere.
So the static electricity - where charges don't move - is not an electricity?
 
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  • #5
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I just tried to provide a basic answer and not confuse too much. We could now discuss arguments that non-moving charges are unknown to physics (even in static electricity) but I don't think that OP wanted to start an academic discussion.
 
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  • #6
Vanadium 50
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The idea of googling before asking a question was the best part of your post
Is Google even open at 11PM? :smile:
 
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  • #7
Borek
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I just tried to provide a basic answer and not confuse too much.
Sorry, but your answer wasn't a basic one. It was a narrow one concentrated on only one of the possible meanings of the word. Basic and not limited definitions are quite easy to find:

Encyclopedia Britannica: Electricity, phenomenon associated with stationary or moving electric charges.

Wikipedia: Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion of electric charge.
 
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  • #8
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Sorry, but your answer wasn't a basic one. It was a narrow one concentrated on only one of the possible meanings of the word. Basic and not limited definitions are quite easy to find:

Encyclopedia Britannica: Electricity, phenomenon associated with stationary or moving electric charges.

Wikipedia: Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion of electric charge.
OK, but while applying these definitions one could find electricity in a hammer left in drawer or even in glass of water.
This is even more confusing and also getting very academic.
 
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  • #9
doglover9754
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That's how we often say, but it is not the whole truth. Every material object you deal with - be it car or carrot - is made of atoms. But is disaster made of atoms? Multiplication? English language? Definitely not.
Disaster meaning like hurricanes and stuff? Now that I think about it, they aren’t caused by atoms. I mean, they make atoms like water atoms but I’ve never heard of a storm being caused by atoms. Thanks for opening up a different light!
 
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  • #10
doglover9754
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Is Google even open at 11PM? :smile:
It should be... I honestly don’t know. I had to go to bed so yeah.
 
  • #11
doglover9754
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OK, but while applying these definitions one could find electricity in a hammer left in drawer or even in glass of water.
This is even more confusing and also getting very academic.
If it’s ok with you, I’d like to hear more about that.
 
  • #12
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If it’s ok with you, I’d like to hear more about that.
Any piece of metal contains atoms, as you already know.
Atom is made of nuclei and electrons. Both nuclei and electrons have electric charges. Most atoms have many electrons. Some of these are near nuclei and some other are farther away. Those which are farther away are easily breaking free from their parent atom and this observation is particularly true for metals. Nuclei are bigger and much heavier than electrons and they are not moving easily. They are fixed in structure known as crystal lattice. So in any piece of metal we have nuclei fixed within crystal lattice together with some electrons and we also have some electrons moving free around.
Now, if you look on on definitions quoted by Borek, it seems that there is an electricity in any piece of metal because particles with electric charges (electrons) are moving around.
So for example if you are wearing a silver earing, there is electricity in it, at least according to these definitions.
Many academics (peoples with long beards who like to argue with each other about things which are often of little relevance and also of no practical use) would agree with it.
This however would be confusing for you. You understand electricity as something what might give you a shock or in weaker form a tingle. It can be found in a socket or in batery.
But certainly your silver earing or a bracelet is not giving you an electric shock and if it did, you would stop wearing it.
So from practical perspective such items cannot contain electricity, at least in commonly understood terms. And as long as we speak in normal, everyday terms they don't, even if many longbearded academics would argue otherwise.
There is often a difference in common everyday understanding of given phenomenon and in a way how academics see it.
If you want to please them, you should talk more precisely. So for example something what you are calling now "electricity" you should call "electric current".
 
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  • #13
doglover9754
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Any piece of metal contains atoms, as you already know.
Atom is made of nuclei and electrons. Both nuclei and electrons have electric charges. Most atoms have many electrons. Some of these are near nuclei and some other are farther away. Those which are farther away are easily breaking free from their parent atom and this observation is particularly true for metals. Nuclei are bigger and much heavier than electrons and they are not moving easily. They are fixed in structure known as crystal lattice. So in any piece of metal we have nuclei fixed within crystal lattice together with some electrons and we also have some electrons moving free around.
Now, if you look on on definitions quoted by Borek, it seems that there is an electricity in any piece of metal because particles with electric charges (electrons) are moving around.
So for example if you are wearing a silver earing, there is electricity in it, at least according to these definitions.
Many academics (peoples with long beards who like to argue with each other about things which are often of little relevance and also of no practical use) would agree with it.
This however would be confusing for you. You understand electricity as something what might give you a shock or in weaker form a tingle. It can be found in a socket or in batery.
But certainly your silver earing or a bracelet is not giving you an electric shock and if it did, you would stop wearing it.
So from practical perspective such items cannot contain electricity, at least in commonly understood terms. And as long as we speak in normal, everyday terms they don't, even if many longbearded academics would argue otherwise.
There is often a difference in common everyday understanding of given phenomenon and in a way how academics see it.
If you want to please them, you should talk more precisely. So for example something what you are calling now "electricity" you should call "electric current".
Ah thanks! That was a very educational 10 minutes of reading :D. I’ll take your advice.
 
  • #14
Drakkith
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Wikipedia has a nice article on electricity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity
If you can't follow some of the technical language and the math, then don't worry about following it. Just read what you can and, if you feel like it, start to try to dig into the stuff you had a hard time understanding.

Now, if you look on on definitions quoted by Borek, it seems that there is an electricity in any piece of metal because particles with electric charges (electrons) are moving around.
So for example if you are wearing a silver earing, there is electricity in it, at least according to these definitions.
Many academics (peoples with long beards who like to argue with each other about things which are often of little relevance and also of no practical use) would agree with it.
I can't remember having read a single article, book, or anything else that ever claimed that a neutral piece of metal with no electric current flowing through it contains electricity. Primarily because the word "electricity" isn't a precisely defined and useful technical term.
 
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  • #15
symbolipoint
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The simple answer: Movement of Charge
but some modifiers may be necessary to make this more complete an answer.
See a basic or introductory/elementary Physics textbook.
 
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I can't remember having read a single article, book, or anything else that ever claimed that a neutral piece of metal with no electric current flowing through it contains electricity. Primarily because the word "electricity" isn't a precisely defined and useful technical term.
While in university long time ago there was lectures dealing with electric properties of metal on micro scale. Surface of metal was teaming with microcurrents cancelling each other etc. Call it electric equivalent of Brown motion if you wish. But yes, I consider these kind of arguments academic and of no use.
 
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  • #17
symbolipoint
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The simple answer: Movement of Charge
but some modifiers may be necessary to make this more complete an answer.
See a basic or introductory/elementary Physics textbook.
While in university long time ago there was lectures dealing with electric properties of metal on micro scale. Surface of metal was teaming with microcurrents cancelling each other etc. Call it electric equivalent of Brown motion if you wish. But yes, I consider these kind of arguments academic and of no use.
Let me change my "answer" to, "The flow of electric charge".
 
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  • #18
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Let me change my "answer" to, "The flow of electric charge".
Again,
You would now not include static electricity where nothing flow but an electric field is formed instead. OK you could now defeat me by asserting that virtual photons are "flowing" both ways in said case.
Entire discussion here points out to difficulties related to formalizing everyday language in scientific terms.
I have no doubt that we really deep down know what "electricity" is but we cannot find formal, short, all inclusive definition which yet does not allow for anti-common sense examples to crop out.
It also shows that simple questions can be difficult to answer in satisfactory way.
 
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  • #19
Borek
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I believe both definitions I posted earlier are reasonably accurate and reasonably easy to understand.
 
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I believe both definitions I posted earlier are reasonably accurate and reasonably easy to understand.
But they are calling for electricity in screwdriver left in a drawer.
 
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  • #21
symbolipoint
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But they are calling for electricity in screwdriver left in a drawer.
Doubtful
 
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  • #22
Drakkith
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While in university long time ago there was lectures dealing with electric properties of metal on micro scale. Surface of metal was teaming with microcurrents cancelling each other etc. Call it electric equivalent of Brown motion if you wish. But yes, I consider these kind of arguments academic and of no use.
I'm not following you. Did your lecture use the term "electricity"? If not, then I don't see how your example applies here.

To be clear, I think you're getting things backwards. "Academics" don't generally argue about what electricity is. Not on a professional level. It's just a term used for the categorization of things. Most people who argue or get confused over the term are people who don't know about the much more useful and technical terms like the two I just listed. They're the ones that care the most.

I believe both definitions I posted earlier are reasonably accurate and reasonably easy to understand.
But they are calling for electricity in screwdriver left in a drawer.
No they aren't. Electricity is not a physical object or a property of something. It is a category. A label. "A set of physical phenomena relating to the presence and motion of electric charges."
Electricity doesn't flow, you can't gather it in your hands or in a capacitor, and it doesn't make anything happen. A screwdriver does not contain electricity.
 
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  • #23
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I'm not following you. Did your lecture use the term "electricity"? If not, then I don't see how your example applies here.

To be clear, I think you're getting things backwards. "Academics" don't generally argue about what electricity is. Not on a professional level. It's just a term used for the categorization of things. Most people who argue or get confused over the term are people who don't know about the much more useful and technical terms like the two I just listed. They're the ones that care the most.
No they aren't. Electricity is not a physical object or a property of something. It is a category. A label. "A set of physical phenomena relating to the presence and motion of electric charges."
Electricity doesn't flow, you can't gather it in your hands or in a capacitor, and it doesn't make anything happen. A screwdriver does not contain electricity.
Talk was about chaotic movement of electrons in microscopic electric circuits on the surface of metal. These circuits was naturally formed, consequence of existence of crystal lattice, defects in said lattice etc.
Electric circuit & movement of electrons within it implies electricity.

I agree that there is no electricity in screwdriver left in a drawer and this is demonstrating that definitions brought by Borek are inadequate - they imply otherwise.
If in doubt read them. There are easily observable phenomena related to movement of electrons in neutral metal (eg reflectivity of light) but they have nothing to do with electricity.
 
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  • #24
Drakkith
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Talk was about chaotic movement of electrons in microscopic electric circuits on the surface of metal. These circuits was naturally formed, consequence of existence of crystal lattice, defects in said lattice etc.
Electric circuit & movement of electrons within it implies electricity.
I'm sorry but I don't see how your example applies if it never used the word "electricity". It would seem that the lecture was exactly how I've described things here. It used actual technical language with "electric current", "electric charge", and other such words instead of "electricity".

I agree that there is no electricity in screwdriver left in a drawer and this is demonstrating that definitions brought by Borek are inadequate - they imply otherwise.
They do not imply otherwise. You're just using the word incorrectly. It would make just as much sense to say that a deer contains evolution.

Edit: to clarify, I'm talking about electricity as defined by Borek earlier in this thread. As the rest of this thread shows, there are several different definitions for electricity.
 
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  • #25
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Talk was about chaotic movement of electrons in microscopic electric circuits on the surface of metal.
Things are much much more complex than has been talked about here.

I could say what they are and exactly what electricity is - it's not what most think it is.

But as those not experienced in how we go about things here, many are like me, and like to lead people to the correct answer. It takes a bit longer, but you understand things better.

First have a look into something called the Hall effect:
http://farside.ph.utexas.edu/teaching/302l/lectures/node74.html

Then you will start to understand things are not quite as simple as some think.

There is more that can be said about what electricity is (it actually based on something called gauge symmetry - but not now - we will take it slowly and those interested will need to do a bit of thinking and reading). However the hall effect is good place to start the journey into this stuff we call electricity, what current in conductors is etc. By the way this is absolutely critical for the modern world - it's how transistors work - but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Thanks
Bill
 
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