Principles of Electricity

Conductors, Insulators, and Resistors.

Conductors and Insulators

Because of the distribution of electrons in the VALENCE RING of an atom, some elements will allow electrical current to flow easier than others. Materials which easily allow the flow of electric current are called CONDUCTORS . CONDUCTORS do not hold tightly to the electrons in their VALENCE RING, and are said to have a large number of FREE ELECTRONS . Some examples of good conductors are Gold, Silver, Copper, Aluminum, Zinc, and Carbon. Other elements do not allow electrical current to flow easily, and these are called INSULATORS . INSULATORS tend to hold tightly to the electrons in their VALENCE RING, and do not want to share with other atoms. Some examples of good insulators are Quartz, Mica, Teflon, Polystyrene, and Water. (Yes, water is an insulator.... not a conductor. This will be explained later in more detail).

Resistors and Resistance:

If water is moving through a hose, we say that it has FLOW .

If we restrict the flow, by pinching the hose, we are causing friction at the point of restriction. This friction can be said, is resistance to the flow of the water.

Electricity, according to Benjamin Franklin, acts like a fluid. It flows and has a measurable CURRENT . We can restrict its flow by adding electrical friction. We say that the restriction of electrical flow is called RESISTANCE and that a device which causes such RESISTANCE is called a RESISTOR . All materials, even the very best CONDUCTORS demonstrate a certain amount of RESISTANCE to electron flow.

In order to compare the resistance of various materials, we need to have some standard unit of measurement. The unit of measurement for resistance is called the Ohm , and is indicated by the Greek letter Omega ( Ω ).

One Ω is defined as the amount of resistance that a 1000 foot piece of #10 copper wire has. A 3000 foot piece of #10 copper wire would have 3 Ohms of resistance. A 500 foot piece of #10 copper wire would exhibit 1/2 an Ohm, etc. Although Ohm is the basic unit, KiloOhm and MegOhm are frequently used. 1 KiloOhm (K Ω) is equal to 1 thousand Ω. 1 MegOhm (M &Omega) is equal to 1 million Ω.

There are 4 factors that determine the resistance of a material:
    (1) Type of Material
      The resistance of various types of materials are different. For instance, copper is a better conductor of electricity than gold, and therefore has less resistance.
    (2) Length
      The resistance of a material is directly proportional to its length. The longer the material is, the more resistance it has. This is because the electrons must flow through more material, and therefore meets more friction over the entire distance.
    (3) Cross Sectional Area
      The resistance of a material is inversely proportional to the cross sectional area of the material. This means that the thicker the substance is across, the lower the resistance. This is because the larger the cross sectional area is, the less friction there is over a given length. (Picture in your mind, if you will, that a fire hose will pass more water than a garden hose, because the wider the pipe, the less resistance it has).
    (4) Temperature
      In various types of materials, resistance can vary inversely or directly with the temperature. This is because of the chemical properties of the material. In Carbon, for instance, the resistance decreases as the temperature rises. So we say it varies inversely. In copper, however, the opposite is true, with the rise in temperature, we have a rise in the resistance.

Resistance then, is basically a form of friction which restricts the flow of an electrical current. In basic science class, you learned that by putting your hands together, and rubbing them quickly, your hands get warm. This is because friction generates heat. Electrical friction - RESISTANCE - also generates heat.

So not only can resistance change with heat, but causes heat as well. An important point to remember when working with resistors, especially in high power circuits.
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