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!

THE STUFF THAT FLOWS THROUGH WIRES IS CALLED ‘ELECTRIC CURRENT’?


Horribly misleading! Most textbooks discuss a substance/energy called “current”. They constantly talk about flows of current. However, here is a pointed question: WHAT FLOWS IN RIVERS: Water, or “current?” If I fill a bucket from the faucet, is my bucket full of “current?” No! Another question: what if the English language had no word for “water”, but we called it “current” instead? What if we believed that rivers were full of “current” which flowed? Wouldn’t people tend to aquire many serious misconceptions about the nature of water? (They might imagine that it vanishes whenever it stops flowing, since a halted current is… nothing!) As far as elementary textbooks are concerned, we have no word for the stuff that flows inside of wires. The stuff, when it flows, is properly called “an electrical current”, but when the stuff *stops* flowing, what do we call it? Refer to advanced physics texts, and there we find its correct name: charge. An electric current is a FLOW OF CHARGE. Yet the K-6 books never mention this. Instead they say that “current” flows. Worse, most of them say that “current electricity” flows in wires. To this I say, “Is there a special kind of water called ‘current water?'” The answer obviously is NO. The same answer applies to electricity: electricity can flow and electricity can stop, and a flow of electricity (or charge) is called an Electric Current, but there is no such thing as “current” electricity. Here’s a useful hint for authors: in your articles, remove the word “current” and replace it with “charge flow”, then see if your sentence still makes sense. If the sentence states that charge-flow is flowing, then the sentence is confusing the students and teaching them to believe that a substance called “current” exists.

CURRENT ELECTRICITY IS THE OPPOSITE OF STATIC ELECTRICITY?


Wrong. “Static” appears whenever the negative charges within matter are separated from the positive charges. “Current” appears whenever the negative charges within matter are made to flow through the positive charges (or when positive flows through negative.) These are two separate kinds of events, they are not opposites. “Static” is a separation; it is a stretching-apart, and it really has little to do with anything remaining static or stationary. “Current” is a flowing motion. It has little to do with the separation of opposite charges. “Static electricity” was misnamed, and it really should be called “charge separation” or maybe “stretched electricity.” Since stretch is not the opposite of flow, Static is not the opposite of Current. And though electric current really exists and electric charge really exists, there is no such material as either “current electricity” or “static electricity.”

THE TWO KINDS OF ELECTRICITY ARE “STATIC” AND “CURRENT?


Nope. Static and Current are two ways in which electrical charges can behave. If we said that Electrical Science is divided into two fields of research called Electrostatics and Electrodynamics, we would be correct. But please realize that the study of WATER is divided into Hydrostatics and Hydrodynamics, yet we don’t go around claiming that “current water” is one type of water, while “static water” is a different type of water. The same applies to electricity. If you insist that “Static” and “Current” are two kinds of electricity, then please explain this: if positive and negative charges are forced to separate as they flow along a wire, then that wire becomes electrostatically charged… yet the charges are NOT STATIC. The wire will cause hair to rise, and it can attract fur or lint, yet the so-called “static electricity” is moving along as an electric current. Does this make your brain ache? The solution is simple: realize that “static” electricity is actually composed of separated opposite charges, and if those separated charges should flow along, they still behave as “static electricity” whether they move or not. The separation of the charges is key, and their “static-ness” is not important. For this reason, charges can exhibit both “static electricity” and “current electricity” at the same time. This is not so terrible, since water supplies a good illustration: water can be pressurized and it can flow at the same time. Fortunately we have not given the name “static water” to water that is pressurized. Maybe we should change the name of “Static electricity” to something sensible, like “charge imbalance”, or “pressurized electricity.” It would end a lot of confusion. Charges can flow, and opposite charges can be forced to separate, but this doesn’t mean that the two KINDS of charge are “flowing electricity” and “separated electricity.” Separation and flow are two electrical behaviors, they are not two “kinds of electricity.”

THE ELECTRIC ENERGY IN A CIRCUIT FLOWS IN A CIRCLE?


Wrong. When you connect a light bulb to a battery, energy moves from the battery to the bulb. This is a one-way flow. If this phenomena is examined in great detail, we find that electrical energy is composed of electromagnetic fields. We find that it moves as wave energy, that it exists only outside of the wires, and most importantly, that it TRAVELS ONE WAY ALONG BOTH WIRES on its trip from the battery to the bulb. The energy did not travel in a circle. So, when you plug a lamp into a wall socket, you should not imagine that the AC energy is a mysterious invisible entity traveling back and forth inside the wires. Instead you should think of it as a mysterious invisible flow that comes out of the outlet, runs along the outside of BOTH wires, then dives into the filament of the light bulb.

THE “ELECTRICITY” INSIDE OF WIRES MOVES AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT?


Wrong. In metals, electric current is a flow of electrons. Many books claim that these electrons flow at the speed of light. This is incorrect. Electrons actually flow quite slowly, at speeds on the order of centimeters per minute. It’s the energy in the circuit which flows fast, not the electrons. When the electrons at one point in the circuit are pumped, electrons in the entire loop of the circuit are forced to flow, and energy spreads almost instantly throughout the entire circuit. This happens even though the electrons move very slowly. To aid your understanding, imagine a large wheel. If you give it a spin, the entire wheel moves as a unit, and this is how you transmit mechanical energy almost instantly to all parts of the wheel’s rim. But the wheel itself didn’t move very fast. The material of the wheel is like the electrons in a wire. Electrical energy is like the “jerk,” the mechanical energy wave which you sent to all parts of the wheel when you gave it a spin. Mechanical energy moves incredibly quickly to all parts of the wheel, but the wheel’s atoms didn’t have to rapidly travel anywhere in order for this to happen.

ELECTRONS IN WIRES JUMP FROM ATOM TO ATOM DURING A CURRENT?


Wrong. When individual atoms of copper are brought together to form a bulk metal material, something unexpected happens. The outer electron of each copper atom leaves its parent atom. Rather than orbiting single atoms, the outer electrons all begin “orbiting” around and among ALL the atoms in the metal. In a sense, the metal’s electrons are “jumping” from atom to atom all the time, even when there is no electric current applied. As a result, metals act like a solid sponge which has been soaked with “liquid charge.” That’s what makes wires so wonderful: they act like pre-filled pipes. They are filled with “liquid electrons.” Not all of the electrons become “loose” and begin wandering. Many are held back, and they remain attached to the atoms. Only the outer electron(s) become part of the “electron sea.” Different metals donate different numbers of electrons to the sea: in some metals, each atom only loses one electron, while in other metals two or more become free. The metal is composed of a mixture: a solid grid of positively-charged atoms which are immersed in a see of movable electrons. When there is an electric current in a wire, it is these movable electrons which flow. These electrons are not stuck to individual metal atoms, so the electrons do not need to “jump” during an electric current. The orbiting motion of the metal’s “liquid” electrons takes place at high speed. However, this motion is similar to the random thermal vibrations of a gas. For this reason we normally ignore the electrons’ wandering motion, just as we ignore the vibration of air molecules when we talk about “wind.” Air molecules keep moving fast even when there is no wind at all. And electrons in metals always wander around at high velocity, even when the electric current is zero.

THE “ELECTRICITY” WHICH FLOWS IN WIRES IS SUPPLIED BY BATTERIES OR GENERATORS?


Wrong. Electric currents in copper wires are a flow of electrons, but these electrons are not supplied by batteries. They come from the copper atoms in the wire. The electrons were already in the circuit before the battery was connected. They were even there before the copper was mined and made into wires! Batteries and generators do not create these electrons, they merely pump them, and the electrons are like a pre-existing fluid that is always found within all wires. In order to understand electric circuits, we must imagine that all the wires are pre-filled with a sort of “liquid electricity.” To clarify this, get rid of the battery. Instead, use a hand-cranked generator as your power supply. Ask yourself exactly where the “electricity” comes from when a generator powers a light bulb. A generator takes electrons in from one terminal and simultaneously spits them out the other one. At the same time, the generator pushes electrons through the moving coil of wire inside itself and through the rest of the circuit. Unlike a battery-powered circuit, all we have is wires. Where is the source of “electricity?” When we include the generator in the circuit, we find that the circuit is a continuous closed loop of wire, and we can find no original source of the “electricity.” A generator or battery is like a closed-loop pump, but it does not supply the substance being pumped. But we were all taught that “batteries and generators create current electricity.” This phrase forms a serious conceptual stumbling block (at least it did for me!) To fix it, change the statement to read like this instead: “batteries and generators cause electric charge to flow.” To complete the picture, add this: all conductors are full of movable charge. A battery or generator is like your heart: it moves blood, but it does not create blood. When a generator stops, or when the metal circuit is opened, all the electrons stop where they are, and the wires remain filled with electric charges. But this isn’t unexpected, because the wires were full of vast quantities of charge in the first place.

ELECTRICITY” IS A PHENOMENON COMPOSED OF ENERGY?


Wrong. Actually, “Electricity” does not exist. The term “electricity” is a catch-all word with many meanings. Unfortunately these meanings are contradictory, and this leads to the unsettling fact that there is no single substance or energy called “electricity.” When we say “quantity of electricity,” we could be talking about quantities of charged particles. But we could also be talking about quantity of energy, quantity of current, or potential, forces, fields, net charge, power, or even about electrical phenomena. All of these are found as separate dictionary definitions of the word “electricity.” But current is not power, particles are not fields, and charge is not energy. “Quantity of Electricity” is a meaningless concept because of the contradictory definitions of the word “electricity.” Much of this problem would vanish if we used the word “electricity” only to refer to a field of science or class of phenomena. This is the way we use the words “physics” or “optics.” Then, if we needed to get down to details, we would never say “electricity.” Instead we would use words like “charges,” “energy”, “current,” etc. We do use the word “electricity” this way occasionally. But then we immediately turn around and do the equivalent of teaching our children that optics is a substance, or that physics is a kind of energy. “Optics” is a substance which comes out of the light bulb and passes through the lens, right? And when you ride a bicycle, “physics” comes out of your muscles and makes the wheels turn? That’s what we say when we tell kids that “electricity flows in wires”. Below are a few examples of errors caused by the contradictory meanings. In AC electric circuits the charges wiggle back and forth, but the energy moves continuously forward. This is analogous to the way that sound waves move continuously forward through the air, while the air itself wiggles back and forth. But if we teach our kids that “electricity” is made of electrons, and “electricity” is also energy, then we make a serious error. We unwittingly teach them that the electricity in wires sits in one spot and wiggles, but at the same time the electricity moves forward rapidly. Garbage! It’s like saying that sound and air are the same thing. And the error is directly traceable to the bogus “electricity” concept. Another: when a battery lights a lightbulb, we explain that the path of electricity is into, then through, then back out of the bulb, and that no electricity is used up. Then we say that electricity flows from the battery to bulb and is totally converted to light. Which one is correct? Does the bulb consume the electricity? Or, does all the electricity flow through the lightbulb and back out again? As far as students are concerned, we’ve just told them that it does both things at the same time! Another: There are two forms of electricity, positive electricity and negative. NO, the two forms of electricity are static and current. NO, there are many forms of electricity: triboelectricity, bioelectricity, myoelectricity, piezoelectricity. NO, electricity is a single form of energy called Electromagnetism. NO, electricity is power, it is watts, not energy. Which is right? All and none, because the word “electricity” has multiple contradictory definitions. None of the above statements are right because there is no “electricity” which is charge, energy, power, and phenomena all at once. And all the meanings are also correct, because the word “electricity” is commonly used to name all these different things, and these definitions appear in the dictionary. Who are we to argue with The Dictionary? Yet we SHOULD distrust the dictionary, since it just innocently records the words which people use. If people always use the word “electricity” in misleading and contradictory ways, then dictionaries will contain contradictory definitions.

Hello world!


This is going to be a slow process!

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