What is Electricity? Definition, Facts, Types And Importance in Physics

We explain what electricity is and what is the origin of this physical phenomenon. In addition, the importance it has and its characteristics.

What is electricity?

Electricity means a set of physical phenomena  linked to the transmission of electric charges , that is, with the atomic dynamics of electrons (hence their name). Being a very versatile form of energy, it can manifest itself in very different forms and phenomena:

  • Electric charge . Atoms and molecules of substances can be electromagnetically charged (negative or positive charge) and this influences the way they attract or repel each other, in the configuration of their structures and in biochemistry.
  • Electric current . Electrically charged particles can flow through a conductive material, transmitting their charge from one site to another.
  • Electric fields . Electric charges produce a field around them even when they are not moving , influencing the susceptible particles that are in it.
  • Electric potential . The electric fields can perform different jobs, measured in volts. That is called electrical potential.
  • Magnetism . Moving electrical charges generate magnetic fields, affecting (attracting or repelling) the magnetic materials that are in it and can, in time, generate electricity again.

Similarly, electricity  represents for mankind endless known applications .

The electrical properties of the various known materials depend on the configuration of the electrons of their atoms. Graphene, silver and copper are to date the most powerful conductors of electrical energy available, while other materials such as glass, lucite or mica are great insulators.

Although electricity has been known since ancient times, especially after the discovery of amber, a material that could be electrically charged, its formal study began in the 17th and 18th centuries , and it was only at the end of the 19th century that it could be used industrially and domestically.

  1. Origin of electricity

Electricity has always been present in the world, and primitive man was able to detail it through visible phenomena such as lightning , or experience it in electric fish such as the Thunder of the Nile River, described by the ancient Egyptians.

Likewise, static electricity, created by rubbing an amber bar with wool or skin, was discovered by the ancient Greeks around 600 BC

However, the first experiments proper with electricity would take place around the 17th century and would be considered little more than a hall show.

The field would grow with the studies and contributions of Cavendish, Du Fray, van Musschenbroek and Watson during the eighteenth century, but only in the nineteenth century would a unifying theory of electricity and magnetism be developed : Maxwell’s equations in 1865.

The generation of electricity as an industrial activity would begin almost in the twentieth century, after Morse demonstrated in 1833 how electricity could revolutionize the field of remote communications , and that the possibility of generating light through an electric power line was checked, replacing So the gas one.

Finally, Tesla and Edison’s research boosted electricity as a basic requirement of scientific and technological innovation in the framework of the Second Industrial Revolution.

  1. Importance of electricity

Electricity is capable of generating caloric energy that can be used for cooking.

Electricity is a versatile and transformative source, capable of taking advantage of different ways:

  • Generate light . Lamps and bulbs allow to take advantage of the electric flow in the vacuum to radiate light, thus illuminating the different environments of everyday life and extending the useful life beyond the fall of the sun.
  • Generate heat . The Joule effect describes how the passage of electrons through a conductor generates caloric energy, which can be harnessed by heating, welding or even cooking resistors.
  • Generate movement . Various types of apparatus are activated by electricity to generate movement, such as motors and rotors, which convert electrical energy into mechanics .
  • Transmit data . Through electronic systems, electrical circuits or wiring networks, electricity allows to activate components of different nature over huge distances.
  1. Electricity characteristics

Electricity consists in the transmission of electrons from the last layer of atoms (the farthest) to that of a next atom , flowing along the conductive matter and altering certain properties of it along the way.

For example, generating heat energy in the driver’s body, which can cause the destruction of the charged material, which means that electricity is also dangerous.

A brief and moderate contact with a source of electricity can numb or numb the muscles, while more serious contact can cause burns or death .

On the other hand, electricity is accumulated , for which the batteries were invented or batteries (accumulators), able to absorb and store electricity in chemical contents to be retrieved later.

  1. Electric current

Electric current is nothing more than the movement of electric charges , which can come from any electrically charged particle that is in motion.

This charge is housed in electrons, subatomic particles that orbit the atomic nucleus, and depending on the conditions they can flow in one direction or another, which has been interpreted as positive or negative.

Types of electric current

The electric current, according to its nature, can be of several types:

  • Direct current  (DC) . Also called direct current (CD), it consists of a flow of electricity that does not change its direction in time , that is, it is produced based on a difference in electrical potential (voltage) whose terminals of greater and lesser potential are not interchangeable . In other words, its sense of circulation is always the same.
  • Alternating current (AC) . Unlike the continuous one, it is a form of electricity whose flow direction varies cyclically, forming sine waves of current. It is this type of electricity that is much easier to transform than the continuous one, which is why homes and businesses receive it . It was invented by Nikola Tesla at the end of the 19th century.
  • Three phase current . The three-phase current is the most commonly generated form of electricity, and consists of three alternating currents of identical frequency and amplitude, given in a certain order and called  phases . This system, also a product of Tesla’s experiments, is extremely effective and therefore the most popular on the planet.
  • Single phase current . It is obtained by taking a single phase of the three-phase current and a neutral cable, which allows to take advantage of the transmission of energy at a low voltage (230 volts). Although it is used in many countries because it is sufficient to operate appliances, many other devices that require high electrical power do not operate with it.

Electric current’s effects

Electric current
When the electrical resistance of a conducting wire is very large, it generates heat and light.

Electric current is a versatile force, which offers mankind numerous practical uses, summarized in the following effects:

  • Caloric . When transmitted by a material that offers resistance to its passage (a resistance), electricity generates an increase in caloric energy (heating), which can be used to heat spaces, cook, etc.
  • Lumínicos . When the electrical resistance of a conducting wire is very large, the passage of electrons has an incandescent effect that generates heat and especially light. This is the principle of operation of the bulbs.
  • Magnetics . Electric current produces magnets, since the generated electric field also produces a magnetic one, as in the case of electromagnets used in car scrap yards, or in electric compasses.
  • Chemicals . Electricity also serves to cause changes in substances and catalyze (accelerate or make more effective) certain chemical reactions. This allows mechanisms such as electrolysis, which is useful for, for example:
    • Protect metals from rust  and corrosion.
    • Breaking chemical bonds to obtain pure substances (such as oxygen and hydrogen from water).
    • Melt certain metals (for gold plating, for example).
  • Mechanical . Electricity provides the energy necessary to activate devices that carry out a specific job, as is the case of motors that generate movement, traction or speed.

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