Physics riddle: anti-scientists claims Big Bang breakthrough


I amused by the latest great scientific announcement of successfully trapping the first “anti-atom”. “but until recently none could be trapped for long enough to study them”. Well would it be too foolish to suggest that the reason they have not been able to “trap” antimatter because it is a theoretical particle that does not exist in nature. If antimatter did exist it would be immediately annihilated by matter. Gerald Gabrielse, after a 20 year hunt for anti-matter should begin to realise this. If I create a swirl in a river that dissipates almost immediately have I created an anti-river? Or have I just been given a vital clue to the nature of the river?

THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF ELECTRICITY – POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE


NO. In the early days of electrical science, researchers believed that there were two kinds of electricity: “vitreous” and “resinous.” Benjamin Franklin renamed these ‘Positive‘ and ‘negative’ electricity after the well established study of magnetism. It was recognised that electricty could be created by rubbing different surfaces together.  It is now more widely accepted that this is the result of charge separation.

In a simple experiment where I induced a “charge separation” I was able to measure the apparent negative and positive charges on the separated items using a coulomb meter. What was unacceptable to conventional theory is that each charged object when studied more thoroughly actually contained BOTH negative AND positive charges that were held in place by reciprocal magnetic fields which was established using a simple compass. It was my belief that only type of electricity was created. The coulomb metre simply measured the flow of electrical pressure. Why the electricity was created in the first place is a different area for discussion.

My blog


It’s starting to take shape. I’m happy with the periodic table page. Will add a few links later today. The electrostatic theory page is a mess. Need to highlight the various experiments and detail my theories on the results. My 8-year-old son was just accepted into private school next year. There goes the lab! Would welcome any feedback from any more experienced bloggers ou there.

STATIC ELECTRICITY” IS ELECTRICITY WHICH IS STATIC? (William J. Beaty)


Instead, ‘static electricity’ is a collection of different electrical phenomena; phenomena where…
The amounts of positive and negative electric charge within a material are not perfectly equal.
Where voltage is high and current is low.
Where electrical forces (attraction and repulsion) are seen to reach across space. Widely spaced objects may attract or repel each other. Hair might stand on end!
Where electric fields (as opposed to magnetic fields) become very important. (Electric fields are also called “electrostatic fields” or “e-fields.”
Electrostatics is about “charge,” and about the attract/repel forces which electric charge creates. The motion or “staticness” of the charge is irrelevant. After all, the forces are still there even when the charges start flowing. And charges which are separated or imbalanced can sometimes flow along, yet the “static” effects are undiminished when the current begins. In other words, it’s perfectly possible to create flows of so-called “static” electricity.
It’s very misleading to concentrate on the “staticness” of the charges. It derails our explanations, and hides many important concepts such as charge separation, the density of imbalanced pos/neg charge, and the presence of voltage fields surrounding the imbalanced charges. These things are important even when the “static electricity” begins moving along as a current.

Electrostatics is not about “staticness,” instead it’s about charge and forces.

Imagine if water was explained just as badly as “static electricity.” In that case, most people would believe in two special kinds of water called “static water” and “current water.” We’d wrongly insist that “hydrostatics” was the study of static water. In that case, only the hydraulics expert would realize there’s no such thing as “static water.” Only the experts would realize that the so-called “static” water is really just pressurized water. The experts would also know that “static water” can even flow along, since pressurized water need not remain still or “static.” Hydrostatics still applies to water when it begins to flow. In a similar way, “static electricity” has everything to do with pressurized charge, and nothing to do with “electricity at rest.”

Here’s another problem with the usual “static electricity” concept. First, think about everyday matter. Down inside its atoms, everyday matter contains equal numbers of positive and negative charges (Protons and Electrons) which are very close together. Are these charges the “static electricity?” After all, they’re static and unmoving, right? They sit there inside each atom. And each individual electron and proton carries a charge of “static electricity.” Shouldn’t we say that physical matter is partly MADE out of “static electricity?”

But if we say that matter is made out of “static,” then where are the sparks, where are the rising hair and crackling noises? There aren’t any, and this shows that the “staticness” is not an important factor. Instead, the most important factor is the balance of opposite charges. Inside matter, the positive and negative charges are close together, and so their effects cancel out. Even though matter is full of charges which are “static” and unmoving, there is normally no “static electricity” to be seen. It’s about IMBALANCE between opposite charges, not about staticness. Also, the presence of charged particles is not such an important factor, since matter is full of them, even when no “static electricity” appears. We need separated, imbalanced particle populations before interesting things start to happen. Just having charged particles is not enough.

How can we fix the confusion? Easy. Don’t call it “static,” instead call it “charge imbalance.” It’s the net electric charge which is important. Or put more simply: it is the separation between positive and negative particles which is the basis for “static electricity.” When quantities of protons are separated from electrons across a large distance, then we’ll get sparks and rising hair. Call this “electric charge”, not “static charge,” since the imbalance remains the same even when the charges flow along very non-statically.

Whenever these opposite charges in matter are sorted out and separated into groups of positive and negative, then we say that “static electricity” has been generated. What does this have to do with the charges remaining still or static? Nothing! In fact, if the charge imbalance can be made to flow along, it will still retain all of its unusual characteristics. It will still attract hair and lint, and cause sparks, etc., even while it is flowing. This puts us into the ridiculous situation of talking about “Static Electricity” …which moves! It’s unfortunate that the term “static electricity” has become so widely adopted as the name for the phenomena. If it had been called something else, “imbalanced electricity” for example, it wouldn’t be nearly as misleading. It’s easy to think about an imbalance which moves or stays still. But it’s impossible to visualize an unmoving substance which flows. And it’s even more unfortunate that textbooks have widely adopted the misleading practice of stating that “static electricity is electricity which is static and unmoving.” This is a lie, and is no less a lie when many textbooks say the same thing. Reality is not determined by majority vote. No matter how many people agree otherwise, the Emperor’s Clothes remain missing.

What we call “Static electricity” also has another name: “high voltage.” All of the familiar electrostatic phenomena which we encounter in everyday situations always involve voltages above 1,000V, and ranging up to around 50,000 volts at the most. If it attracts lint or raises hair, it’s definitely over 1,000 Volts. Rub a balloon on your head, and you generate tens of thousands of volts! This is voltage without a current. Here’s a way to think about it: pure electric current involves a current with zero voltage, while pure “electrostatic” phenomena involve electrical voltages with zero current. Scuff your feet on a carpet and you create a voltage difference of many thousands of volts between your body and the carpet. Study “static electricity” and you study voltage itself.

It would be wonderful if the term “Static electricity” could be removed from the English language and replaced by “High Voltage Electricity.” Or possibly by “Separated Charge,” or “Charge Imbalance,” or “The Science Called Electrostatics.” This won’t happen anytime soon, since the mistake is too deeply ingrained in books and teachers, and in the minds of the public. The best solution is to have everyone stay aware of this issue. Try to avoid using the terms “Static Electricity” and “Static Charge.” And very definitely do not TEACH that “Static” and “Current” are opposite kinds of electricity. After all, charge imbalances still are “imbalances” even when they stop being static and they flow during an electric current.

Also, charge-flow and charge-imbalance can happen in the same wire at the same time. Therefore, anyone who believes that “static” and “current” are two types of opposite, mutually-exclusive electricity, those people will forever remain hopelessly confused about the true nature of any electrical phenomena.

ELECTRICITY IS MADE OF ELECTRONS?


Wrong. Electricity is energy, atoms are energy, electrons are energy, matter is energy. Electricity is a our experience of charge imbalance and dissipation of charge. Describing electricity as the movement of electrons is wrong in that electricity or charge imbalance is often generated through a magnetic field. A magnetic field is simply flow and is not usually described in terms of electrons.

We experience electricity through charge imbalance which seeks to dissipate through conductive material over the widest possible surface.

Charge dissipation is one of the most important concepts in understanding electricity. Charge can only exist in one of two states, balanced or imbalanced.

When dissipating, charge radiates outward in every direction behaving much like a burst balloon would dissipate air pressure. The difference is that certain substances (conductors) offer less resistance to the dissipating electrical pressure assisting or acting as a conduit for balancing the charge quicker. A charge carried along a conducting path acts in the same way, dissipating charge radially, always spreading to the greatest surface area, unless it is carried by the conductor to a distant point of dissipation. The simple laws of dispersion dictate the radial forces. This radial dissipation also illustrates how a charge will always be carried along the outermost surface of a conductor. Thus it can be stated that electricity tends to be a surface phenomena.

BEN FRANKLIN’S KITE WAS STRUCK BY LIGHTNING? (William J. Beaty)


Never happened! Many people believe that Ben Franklin’s kite was hit by a lightning bolt, and this was how he proved that lightning was electrical. A number of books and even some encyclopedias say the same thing. They are wrong. When lightning strikes a kite, the spreading electric currents in the ground can kill anyone standing nearby, to say nothing of the person holding the string! So what did Franklin actually do? He showed that a kite would collect a tiny bit of electric charge out of the sky during a thunderstorm. Electric leakage through the air caused his kite and string to become electrified and so the hairs on the twine stood outwards. Twine is slightly conductive, so the imbalanced charge spread to all parts of the kite string. Franklin used the twine to electrify a metal key, and tiny sparks could then be drawn from the key. (He used a metal object because sparks cannot be directly drawn from the twine, it’s not conductive enough.) This suggested that some stormclouds carry strong electrical net-charge. It IMPLIED that lightning was just a large electric spark. The common belief that Franklin easily survived a lightning strike is not just wrong, it is dangerous: it may convince kids that it’s OK to duplicate the kite experiment as long as they “protect” themselves by holding a silk ribbon. Make no mistake, Franklin’s experiment was extremely dangerous, and if lightning had actually hit his kite, he certainly would have been killed.

STORM CLOUDS ARE ELECTRIFIED BY FRICTION?


No. I remember being taught at school that fast moving clouds gather electrical charges and exchange charges as they rub against each other. This is entirely untrue as the moist air contained in clouds actually helps dissipate charge and by no stretch of the imagination be responsible for the apparent build up of charge. The real explanation for thunderstorms is surprisingly still unknown to science. Here is my explanation. There are two pressure gradients in our atmosphere. The air pressure gradient where the pressure increases the closer you get to sea level, and the earth’s electrostatic gradient which decreases the closer you get to sea level. Both of these are mutually exclusive. Before a thunderstorm there is normally a sudden and dramatic drop in air pressure. This causes a sudden corresponding rise in electrostatic pressure (voltage). This electrostatic pressure is held in place by the very cold DRY insulating air high in the atmosphere, until the moist clouds rush into the low air pressure zone and create a conduit for the dissipation of charge. Note that often you will see horizontal lightening at the beginning of the storm. When the rain begins to fall you will see dramatic bolts of lightening to the ground. No rubbing, no charge separation.

A “CONDUCTOR” IS A MATERIAL WHICH ALLOWS CHARGE TO PASS THROUGH IT? (William J. Beaty)


Not exactly. The scientist’s definition of the word “conductor” is different than the one above, and the one above has problems. For example, a vacuum offers no barrier to flows of electric charges, yet vacuum is an insulator. Vacuum is NOTHING, so how can it act as a barrier to electric current? Also, there is a similar problem with air: electric charges in the air can easily move along, yet air is an insulator. Or look at salt water versus oil. Oil is an insulator, while salt water is a conductor, yet neither liquid is able to halt the flow of any charges which are placed into it. How can we straighten out this paradox? Easy: use the proper definition of “conductor.” BAD:
Conductor – a material which allows charges to pass through itself BETTER:
Conductor – a material which contains movable electric charges If we place a Potential Difference across either air or a vacuum, no electric current appears. This is sensible, since there are few movable charges in air or vacuum, so there can be no electric current. If we place a voltage across a piece of metal or across a puddle of salt water, an electric current will appear, since these substances are always full of movable charges, and therefor the “voltage pressure” causes the charges to flow. In metal, the outer electrons of the atoms are not bound upon individual atoms but instead can move through the material, and a voltage can drive these “liquid” electrons along. In salt water, the individual sodium ions and chloride ions are free to flow, and a voltage can push them so they flow as an electric current. If we stick our wires into oil, there will be no electric current, since oil does not contain movable charges. If we were to inject charges into a vacuum, then we WOULD have electric current in a vacuum. This is how CRT’s and vacuum tubes work; electrons are forcibly injected into the empty space by a hot filament. However, think about it for a second: it’s no longer a vacuum when it contains a cloud of electrons! :) Maybe we should change their name to “electron-cloud tubes” rather than “vacuum tubes”, since the electron cloud is required before there can be any conductivity in the space between the plates. (But vacuum tubes already have another name, so this would just confuse things. They are called “hollow-state devices.” As opposed to “solid state devices?”

ELECTRIC CHARGES ARE INVISIBLE? (William J. Beaty)


No. Electric charges are very visible, even though their motion is not.

ELECTRIC CHARGES ONLY FLOW ON THE SURFACES OF WIRES


Wrong. The flow of electricity along a wire is a form of dissipation of electrical pressure and therefore generally tends to be a surface phenomenon, flowing over the greatest surface area, which offers the least amount of resistance, and which forms the pressure boundary. Though thin, hollow metal pipes usually make poor conductors as their capacity to carry a current is low.  In solid conductors the electrical pressure will flow through the entire conductor if there is sufficient resistance in the form of limited capacity on the surface. It is this reason it is better to use solid wires which offer greater current carrying capacity and are less prone to overheating.

Rather than “conducting” it would be better to think of the conductor as a channel where electrical pressure can be dissipated in the same way a flood would spread across a landscape flowing along the path of least resistance.

Personally I disagree with the electron theory as I have outlined in “Electrostatic Theory is Wrong”, but William Beaty explains the present electron theory in relation to this subject well…

“Unfortunately, the word “charge” refers to two different things. When electric charge is placed on a metal object, the added charge is just a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of charge already in the neutral metal. “Uncharged” wires contain an enormous amount of charge, even though they may have “zero charge” on their surfaces. Confused yet? All metals contain huge amounts of movable electrons. During an electric current it is these electrons which flow. However, each electron is near a proton, and so the metal is said to be “uncharged.” In a wire, electric current is a flow of “uncharged charge”. Weird but true. Now if we were to place EXTRA charge upon a wire, that would be like pouring a teacup into the ocean. The “water level” would rise a tiny bit. Yet extra charges on a wire create a very noticeable electrical imbalance (they attract lint, deflect electroscopes, make sparks, etc.) It isn’t so strange that we might accidentally assume that the extra charges are the only charges there. Yet in reality, electric currents happen in the “ocean” of the wire, and the extra “teacup” has little effect on the charge flow. The charge flow (current) is not just on the surface. A second source of misunderstandings: during high frequency AC, the electric current on the surface of a conductor is higher at the surface than it is within the bulk of the metal. This is called the “skin effect.” It is not important for everyday wires at 60Hz. Perhaps some people heard about the Skin Effect but did not realize that it only works for high frequency AC. At extremely high frequencies, the current does flow as a “skin” on the surface of large wires. For high-current, high-frequency circuits such as radio transmitters, it makes sense to use copper pipes as conductors. All the charge flow is on the surface of the conductors. All the heating takes place on the surface, and not deep within the metal.”


ELECTROMAGNET COILS USE UP ENERGY TO MAKE MAGNETISM? (William J. Beaty)


Not right. Sustaining a magnetic field requires no energy. Coils only require energy to initially create a magnetic field. They also require energy to defeat electrical friction (resistance), to keep the charges from slowing down as they flow in wires. But if the resistance is removed, the magnetic field can exist continuously without any energy input. If electrically frictionless superconductive wire is used, a coil can be momentarily connected to an energy supply to create the field. Afterwards the power supply can be removed and both the current and the magnetic field will continue forever without further energy input.

LIGHT AND RADIO WAVES TRAVEL AT 186,000 MILES PER SECOND? (William J. Beaty)


No. They only travel at 186,000 miles per second while in a perfect vacuum. Light waves travel a bit slower in the air, and it travels LOTS slower when inside glass. Radio waves move much slower than 186,000 miles/sec when they travel within plastic-insulated coaxial cable. The term “speed of light” is misleading, because the complete term actually reads “speed of light in a vacuum.” There actually is no set “speed of light,” for light waves and light (and electrical energy) can travel at many different speeds depending on the medium through which the waves propagate.

ELECTRIC POWER FLOWS FROM GENERATOR TO CONSUMER? (William J. Beaty)


Wrong. Electric power cannot be made to flow. Power is defined as “flow of energy.” Saying that power “flows” is silly. It’s as silly as saying that the stuff in a moving river is named “current” rather than named “water.” Water is real, water can flow, flows of water are called currents, but we should never make the mistake of believing that water’s motion is a type of substance. Talking of “current” which “flows” confuses everyone. The issue with energy is similar. Electrical energy is real, it is sort of like a stuff, and it can flow along. When electric energy flows, the flow is called “electric power.” But electric power has no existence of its own. Electric power is the flow rate of another thing; electric power is an energy current. Energy flows, but power never does, just as water flows but “water current” never does. The above issue affects the concepts behind the units of electrical measurement. Energy can be measured in Joules or Ergs. The rate of flow of energy is called Joules per second. For convenience, we give the name “power” to this Joule/sec rate of flow, and we measure it in terms of Watts. This makes for convenient calculations. Yet Watts have no physical, substance-like existence. The Joule is the fundamental unit, and the Watt is a unit of convenience which means “joule per second.” I believe that it is a good idea to teach only the term “Joule” in early grades, to entirely avoid the “watt” concept. Call power by the proper name “joules per second”. Only introduce “watts” years later, when the students feel a need for a convenient way to state the “joules per second” concept. Unfortunately many textbooks do the reverse, they keep the seemingly-complex “Joule” away from the kids, while spreading the “watt” concept far and wide! Later they try to explain that joules are simply watt-seconds! (That’s watts TIMES seconds, not watts per second.) If you aren’t quite sure that you understand watt-seconds, stop thinking backwards and think like this: Joules are real, a flow of Joules is measured in Joules per second, and “Watts” should not interfere with these basic ideas.

“STATIC ELECTRICITY” IS ELECTRICITY WHICH IS STATIC? (William J. Beaty)


Wrong. “Static electricity” exists whenever there are unequal amounts of positive and negative charged particles present. It doesn’t matter whether the region of imbalance is flowing or whether it is still. Only the imbalance is important, not the “staticness.” To say otherwise can cause several sorts of confusion. All solid objects contain vast quantities of positive and negative particles whether the objects are electrified or not. When these quantities are not exactly equal and there is a tiny bit more positive than negative (or vice versa), we say that the object is “electrified” or “charged,” and that “static electricity” exists. When the quantities are equal, we say the object is “neutral” or “uncharged.” “Charged” and “uncharged” depends on the sum of opposite quantities. Since “static electricity” is actually an imbalance in the quantities of positive and negative, it is wrong to believe that the phenomena has anything to do with lack of motion, with being “static.” In fact, “static electricity” can easily be made to *move* along conductive surfaces. When this happens, it continues to display all it’s expected characteristics as it flows, so it does not stop being “static electricity” while it moves along very non-statically! In a high voltage electric circuit, the wires can attract lint, raise hair, etc., even though there is a large current in the wires and all the charges are flowing (and none of the electricity is “static.”) And last, when any electric circuit is broken and the charges stop flowing, they do *not* turn into “static electricity” and begin attracting lint, etc. A disconnected wire contains charges which are not moving (they are static,) yet it contains no “static electricity!” To sort out this craziness, simply remember that “static electricity” is not a quantity of unmoving charged particles, and “static electricity” has nothing to do with unmoving-ness. If you believe that “static” and “current” are opposite types of “electricity,” you will forever be hopelessly confused about electricity in general.

‘Static Electricity’ is a Build-up of Electrons?


The conventional view is that static electricity is created through charge separation which means that there is always equal quantities of positive and negative ‘particles’. To create a build-up of electrons you would also create a build-up of protons, so… “You’ve not caused a ‘buildup’, you’ve caused an imbalance, an un-cancelling, a separation” (William Beaty).

Though in a Van Der Graph generator charge is transferred along an insulating belt to a metal dome. The noticeable static charge wholly depends on the air’s insulating ability. On a cool dry day the air acts as a good insulator and a significant charge may build up on the dome. Introducing a conductor such as an earth’d rod causes a large static spark as the charge is dissipated. On a warmer, more humid day the static charge dissipates quickly into the air resulting in much more feeble spark. Either way the charge MUST be balanced. 99% of our experience of static electricity are momentary imbalances of charge created through the insulation properties of dry air. As the cooler condensing winter air holds less moisture it is normally insulating, thus most static effects are experienced  in winter.

While it may be argued that a Van Der Graph generator separates charge to create an imbalance, the charged dome clearly does not have an EQUAL and opposite area of imbalance. Though any charge WILL be equalised.

“STATIC ELECTRICITY” (CONTACT ELECTRIFICATION) IS CAUSED BY FRICTION?


WRONG “Static” electricity appears whenever two dissimilar insulating materials are placed into intimate contact and then separated again. All that’s required is the touching. Chemical bonds are formed when the surfaces touch, and if the atoms in one surface tend to hold electrons more tightly, that surface will tend to steal charged particles from the other surface immediately as they touch. This causes the surfaces to become oppositely “charged”; they acquire imbalances of opposite polarity. One surface now has more electrons than protons, while the other has more protons than electrons. When the surfaces are later separated, the regions of opposite charge-imbalance also get separated.
For example, when adhesive tape is placed on an insulating surface and then peeled off, both the tape and the surface will become electrified. No friction was required.
Another example: when a thin material passes between rollers, sometimes the material becomes electrified. The rollers become oppositely electrified. For example, when newspaper passes between rubber rollers in a printing press, the paper becomes electrified and later on this can cause problems with cling and sparking. This situation in a large newspaper press inspired Robert VandeGraaff to design his famous generator.

Friction is not required. However, if one of the materials is rough or fiberous and does not give a very large footprint of contact area, then the process of rubbing one material upon another can greatly increase the total contact area. Friction may also remove thin layers of oil or oxide, exposing a more pure surface beneath. The peeling tape does not have to be rubbed in order to generate charge-imbalance, but the hair does need to be rubbed by the balloon. But the rubbing is not the cause of electrification, electrification can come about purely from contact. The term “Frictional electricity” is misleading. I try to instead use the terms “Contact Electricity” or “Electrification by Contact,” or “separation of charge,” or “creating charge imbalance.”

BATTERIES STORE CHARGE, AND THIS CHARGE FLOWS IN WIRES? (William J. Beaty)


No. The word “charge” has more than one meaning, and the meanings contradict each other. The “charge” in a battery is energy (chemical energy), while the “charge” that flows in wires is electron particles. The term “charge” refers to several different things: to net-charge, to quantities of charged particles, and to “charges” of energy. If you are not very careful while using the word “charge” in teaching, you might be spreading misconceptions. For example, even when metals are totally neutral, they contain vast quantities of movable electrons. So, should we say that they contain zero charge because they are neutral? Or, should we say that they contain a very large amount of electric charge, because they are filled with electrons? Don’t answer yet, because your answer might be inconsistent with how we describe capacitors (further below.) Another: if I place an electron and a proton together, do I have twice as much charge as before, or do I have a neutral hydrogen atom with no charge at all? What I DO have is confusion. Misuse of “charge” makes descriptions of electric circuits seem complex and abstract, when the explanations are really just wrong. Another: electric currents in wires are actually a motion of “neutralized” charge, where every electron has a proton nearby. If we teach that a wire is uncharged, and we ALSO teach that electric current is a flow of charge, how can anyone make sense of a situation where a wire has no charge at all, yet contains an enormous flow of charge? We could say “Oh, but electric currents are usually a flow of Uncharged Charge.” WHAT? What would a student make of THAT statement? Can you see the problems that arise because of the word “charge?” Another one: as you “charge” a battery, you cause an electric current to appear in the electrolyte, and this motion of electric charges causes chemical reactions to occur upon the surfaces of the battery’s plates. Chemical “fuel” accumulates, but charge does not: the charges flow into (or out of) the surfaces of the plates and do not accumulate there. Chemical energy is stored in the battery, but electrical charge is not. When a battery is being “discharged”, it’s chemical fuel drives a process which pumps charge through the battery. The fuel will eventually be exhausted, but the total electric charge within the battery will never change! Here’s a way to imagine the process: a battery is like a spring-driven “wind up” water pump. Send water backwards through this pump, and you wind up the spring. Then, provide a pathway between the inlet and the outlet of the pump, and the spring-motor will pump the water in a circle. But now think for a moment: the water is the charge, yet our wind-up pump does not store water! When we “charge” our wind-up pump, we send the charge (water) THROUGH THE PUMP, and this stores energy by winding up the spring. Same with a battery: to “charge” a battery, we send electrical charges THROUGH THE BATTERY and back out again. This causes the chemicals on the battery plates to store energy, like winding up the spring in our spring-powered water pump. See how “charging” and “charges” can create a horrible mess of misunderstandings? When this mess gets into the textbooks, and educators start teaching it to kids, the kids end up believing that Electricity is too complicated for them to understand. Yet the fault does not lie with the students!!!! Another one: if you “charge” a capacitor, you move charges from one plate to the other, and the number of charges within the device as a whole do not change. Or from an engineer’s perspective, you drive charge THROUGH the capacitor, which causes potential across the plates to rise. But capacitors have exactly the same total charge within them whether they are “charged” or not! Whenever we take an electron from one plate, we put an electron onto the other plate. When we speak of “charging” capacitors, we’ve suddenly stopped talking about charge, and started talking about electrical energy. A “charged” capacitor has quite a bit more energy than an “uncharged” one (but exactly the same net-charge, and the same quantity of + and – particles inside it.) This basic concept is very important in understanding simple circuitry, yet it is rarely taught. The misleading term “charge” stands in the way of understanding. I suspect that students are not the only ones being misled. Many teachers misunderstand simple physics, and they believe that the purpose of a capacitor is to store electric charge. Think like this: both capacitors and inductors (coils) store ENERGY, and neither one stores charge. Yet electric charge is the medium of energy storage in both coils and capacitors. In capacitors, energy is stored in the form of “stretched charge”, or potential energy, while coils store energy in the form of moving charge which contains kinetic energy. However, we don’t put any charge into a capacitor when we “charge” it, any more than we put charge into a superconductor ring-inductor when we give the ring a “charge” of electromagnetic energy.

ELECTRIC ENERGY IS CARRIED BY INDIVIDUAL ELECTRONS?


Wrong. Some books teach that, in a simple battery/bulb circuit, each electron carries energy to the bulb, is emptied of energy, and then returns to the battery where it’s re-filled with energy. Some books give an analogy with a circular track full of freight cars waiting to be filled. This is wrong. The energy in electric circuits is not carried by individual electrons, it is carried by the circuit as a whole. Here’s an analogy which may help explain it: imagine a wheel that’s free to spin. For example, turn a bicycle upside-down in your mind. Give the front tire a spin. When you spin the tire, your hand injects energy into the whole wheel all at once. Now put your hand lightly against some part of the tire so the spinning wheel is slowed and stopped by friction. Your hand gets hot. Your hand extracts energy from the entire wheel, all at once, and the whole wheel slows down. Finally, put one hand lightly against the tire while you use your other hand to keep the wheel spinning. Would it be right to tell students that the “Power” hand fills the rubber molecules with energy, that the molecules travel to the “Friction” hand and dump their energy, then they return empty to the “power” hand and get refilled? No, of course not! If this were true then your “friction” hand wouldn’t experience any friction until the magically-energized rubber molecules made their way around the rim. Part of the wheel would be spinning while part would be de-energized and unmoving, and it would be really a strange sight to see! A flashlight circuit is like our bicycle wheel. The electrons in the copper circuit are like the rim of the wheel. The battery causes ALL the electrons in the loop of wire to begin moving, and so it injects energy into the WHOLE CIRCUIT all at once. As soon as the battery moves the electrons, the distant lightbulb lights up. The electrons moving into the bulb’s filament are exactly the same as the ones moving out; the bulb doesn’t change them or extract stored energy from them. Did your hand alter the rubber tire as it rubbed on the bicycle wheel? No, it slowed the whole wheel down, it extracted energy from the whole wheel, and was heated by friction. Same thing with the bulb, it slows ALL the electrons down throughout the entire circuit, and in this way extracts energy from the whole circuit as it lights up. In discussing this misconception with teachers, I find that they see nothing wrong with it. The kids instantly grasp it since it is very visible, and it offers a sensible explanation. What more can we ask? Yet there is a problem: in order to understand electricity, a student must UNLEARN the incorrect freight-cars analogy. “Unlearning” rarely happens, and so the analogy forms a learning barrier which can forever prevent any further progress. It freezes their understanding of electricity at the elementary-school stage. Yes, if the kids will never have any need to understand how electricity REALLY works, then the freight-cars analogy is fine. But if the kids grow up to become scientists and engineers and technical people, then the freight-cars analogy causes harm. (Unfortunately, it causes FUTURE harm, so K-6 educators never see the effects of the misconception that they’ve installed in the kids minds.) The “filled freightcars” analogy seems seductively appropriate when used to explain Direct Current. However, when explaining Alternating Current the analogy breaks down completely. Each freight car wiggles back and forth, so how can those energy-filled buckets move from the “battery” to the “light bulb?” They cannot. The analogy doesn’t work, and students who have learned the analogy will find it impossible to understand AC. Again, this is fine if the kids have no hopes of entering any kind of technical career, and their science learning will cease after fifth grade… An analogy regarding this analogy (grin!) How do sound waves work? Would it be OK to teach kids that your vocal chords place energy into air molecules, then the air molecules zoom out of your mouth at 720MPH and crash into the ears of distant listeners? I would think that any author who use this kind of explanation should be ashamed. Yes, the explanation “works”, and it is easy for the kids to grasp. But it is wrong. And any kid who believes this explanation will have terrible difficulties should they ever have need to understand how sound REALLY works. This is an analogy for wires, since electrical energy is wave energy, and the electrons in the wires do not move along with the speed-of-light energy waves. The bicycle-wheel analogy has no problem explaining AC. Just wiggle the bicycle wheel back and forth instead of spinning it continuously. The wiggling wheel will rub upon the distant “friction” hand, and heat it up. Energy can travel instantly across the bicycle wheel, even though the wheel itself rotates slowly. Energy can travel instantly between the hands even if the wheel moves back and forth instead of spinning.

ELECT. LEAVES ONE BATTERY PLATE, THEN RETURNS TO THE OTHER?


Not quite. The actual path of electric current is THROUGH the battery. Some books imply (or even state outright) that, whenever a battery is connected in a complete circuit, the charges flow only in the wires, and that no charges flow in the chemicals between the battery plates. This is wrong. These books often contain a diagram of a battery, wires, and a light bulb. The diagram shows the current in the wires, but shows no current going THROUGH the battery. This is wrong. In any simple electric circuit, the path of the electric current is a complete circle. It goes through all parts of the circuit including the battery, and including the battery’s liquid electrolyte. If there’s one Ampere in the wires connected to the battery, then there’s also a 1-Amp flow of charge in the electrolyte between the battery’s plates. Where does this charge come from? Go down to this section. A battery does not supply charges, it merely pumps them. Whenever electric charge flows into one terminal of a battery, an equal amount of charge must flow THROUGH the battery and back out through the other terminal. In a simple battery/bulb circuit, the charges flow around and around the circuit, going through both the battery and the bulb. The battery is a charge pump.

ELECTRIC CURRENT IS A FLOW OF ENERGY?


Wrong. Electric current is a flowing motion of charged particles. The words “Electric Current” mean the same as “charge flow.” Electric current is a very slow flow of charges. On the other hand, electric energy is made of fields and it moves VERY rapidly. Electric energy moves at a different speed than electric current, so obviously they are two different things. Unless we realize this, we won’t understand how circuits work. Indeed, we will have little basic grasp of electrical science. In an electric circuit, the path of the electric charges is circular, while the path of the energy is not. A battery can send electric energy to a light bulb, and the bulb changes electrical energy into light. The energy does NOT flow back to the battery again. At the same time, the electric current is a circular flow, and the charges flow through the light bulb filament and none are lost. Electric energy can flow in a direction opposite to that of the electric current. In a single wire, electric energy can even move continuously forward while the direction of the electric current is alternating back and forth at high frequency. Here’s one way to clarify the muddled concepts: if electric current is like a flow of air inside a pipe, then electrical energy is like sound waves in the pipe, and electrons are like the air molecules. Sound can travel through a pipe if the pipe is full of air molecules, and electrical energy can flow along a wire because the wire is full of movable charges. Sound moves much faster than wind, correct? And electrical energy moves much faster than electric current for much the same reason. Air in a pipe can flow fast or slow, while sound waves always move at the same very high speed. Charges in a wire can flow fast or slow, while electrical energy always flows along the wire at the same incredibly high speed. Whenever sound is flowing through a pipe, the air molecules in that pipe are vibrating back and forth. When waves of AC electrical energy are flowing along a wire, the electrons in that wire are vibrating back and forth 60 times per second. What if we were all taught that sound and wind are the same thing? This would prevent us from understanding wind or sound. Books teach us that electric currents are a flow of energy, and it prevents us from understanding both current and energy flow. Be careful, since my description of the above pipes are just an analogy, and sound waves aren’t *exactly* like electrical energy. For example, sound can flow inside an air-filled tube, while electrical energy always flows in the space outside of the wires, and does not travel along within the metal wires. However, electrical energy is coupled with compression waves in the electrons of the wire surface. Electric energy is composed of electric and magnetic fields, and it exists in the space surrounding the wires. Electric energy is very similar to radio waves, but it is very low in frequency. Electric CHARGE is very different than the energy. The charge-flow (current) is a flowing motion usually of electrons, and electrons are material particles, not energy particles. And it’s not always a flow of electrons: when electric current exists inside an electrolyte (in batteries, salt water, the earth, or in your flesh) it is a flow of charged atoms called ions, so there is no denying that it is a flow of material. Current is a matter-flow, not an energy flow. Is it important for us to realize that wind is not sound? Obviously. School books would cause harm if they taught us that wind is sound. And if we want to understand circuits, we need a clear view of electric charge flow, and of electric energy flow. We need to be totally certain that they are two different things, and our textbooks teach us the exact opposite!

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