Eli5: how does electricity work?

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Can someone explain how electricity was discovered and how it works?

Like how did we go from lamps and torches to being able to generate electricity and have it run basically everything?

In: Technology

4 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

The discovery was a slow process. It basically started as a strange effect with no applications. People noticed that rubbing certain materials over each other created static electricity wich then repels or attracts each other.

Then the first big breakthrough was a guy named Volta discovering the Voltaic cell where chemicals could create the same effect. Then slowly more people discovered more properties of electrical charges, that metals transmitted them so you could use wires to direct it, and then very importantly that you can use magnets to generate electricity by spinning them inside a wire coil.

How it works is that every atom is made of a positively charged core and negatively charged electrons. Under several conditions you can move electrons from one place to another to create an imbalance that wants to balance out again by moving electrons back to equilibrium. This difference causes a voltage (“electrical pressure”) and when electrons actually flow thats amps (“electrical flow”).

Since they want to return to balance with quite a lot of force you can basically let them do usefull things on the way. For example when they move through a thin wire it heats up from the “friction” and when the wire gets very hot it will produce light. Moving electrons also cause a magnetic field around them wich you can use to move things in electrical motors

Anonymous 0 Comments

A very good summary is at https://www.sciencefocus.com/science/who-invented-electricty and is of ELI5 level.

Essentially, over a long period of time more and more people began to understand what and how electricity behaved. Benjamin Franklin, often credited as the discoverer of electricity, was merely another link in the chain.

Electricity, as we now know, is the movement of electrons between the shells of atoms. Some atoms have a space where an electron could fit, and are thus positively charged, and some have too many and are negatively charged.

In conductors like metals, the atoms’ electrons are loosely connected and are somewhat of a ‘sea’, shared easily between neighbouring atoms. Insulators have tightly bound electrons. Semiconductors are complicated and somewhere in between.

The biggest breakthrough in understanding electricity generation was that electricity and magnetism are part of the same phenomenon. A moving electrical current has a magnetic field; a moving magnetic field generates an electric current. Almost all electricity generation (excluding solar and batteries) is done by spinning magnets near coils of wires, causing electrons to be pushed out.

Anonymous 0 Comments

think of it as a closed system of waterfilled pipes, tubes and hoses with valves and nozzles. if you want to display something, you fill up certain points in a matrix with water and that builds the picture. a transistor is like a valve that is set by another watertubes pressure.

its not completely similar, but you can understand many things in electricity using this model. magnetic inducted electricity for example can not easyly be explained by this. maybe by pressing a hose from outside.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Electricity is the movement of electromagnetic charge. Metals have the nice quality of having electrons that are very weakly bound to their nuclei, so much so that it’s very easy to push them in one direction through that metal, say, through a wire. Those electrons themselves move very slowly, and they only matter because they carry that charge. What that moving charge does for us varies: in a toaster or an old light bulb, forcing them through a “bottleneck” of sorts causes “friction”, which makes the wire heat up. In most things, electricity is used to make a motor spin.

A moving magnetic field will “push” charged particles (like electrons), and create a current in a metal wire. A current in a wire will do the opposite – create a moving magnetic field. Spinning is the easiest way to keep moving forever, so making a coil of wire spin around a magnet will create a a flow of electricity. Anything in the world that can make that coil spin – a wind turbine, a water turbine, a dog on a treadmill – can make electricity flow.

And an electric motor is just as simple – feed electricity through the wire, and it’ll make the magnet spin. Hook up your wheel or blender or ceiling fan to the magnet. In fact, any electric motor can also be a generator. The realization that these two things were the same force, in reverse of each other, was a step in realizing that magnetism and electricity are part of the same force, electromagnetism!

Batteries work a different way. They basically have one side with a ton of extra charge, and one side with a huge deficit. If you connect the two sides with a wire, electrons are going to want to move from one to the other, to balance it out. Think of it like two buckets, one filled with more water than the other – if you let the water flow, it’ll flow from one to the other until they even out. Attach something to the middle of that, and the electrons do work while they’re going – like putting a water wheel between the buckets.