Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - Front Page - WITH ROB CHRIS

ELEC­TRIC­ITY. You use it every day to power your lights, keep your fridge run­ning, charge your phone, turn on your com­puter, start up your car, and a thou­sand other things, but how much do you ac­tu­ally know about one of the great­est marvels of the mod­ern world?

If you aren’t an elec­tri­cian, a physi­cist, or a sci­ence teacher, there’s a fair chance you know just enough about it to turn on a light switch and pre­vent your­self from be­ing elec­tro­cuted whilst op­er­at­ing a toaster.

But fear not, for this week we’ll en­deavor to rec­tify this short­com­ing of knowl­edge by ex­plor­ing some in­ter­est­ing facts, and some ob­scure facts, about elec­tric­ity.

1. Elec­tric­ity was never in­vented. It was dis­cov­ered.

This im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion is some­thing that is of­ten mis­un­der­stood, not just when it comes to talk­ing about elec­tric­ity, but a vari- ety of sci­en­tific dis­ci­plines.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween in­ven­tion and dis­cov­ery is that hu­mans can in­vent some­thing which does not al­ready ex­ist in na­ture, while they dis­cover some­thing which al­ready ex­ists in na­ture. Elec­tric­ity is ac­tu­ally a type of en­ergy that is present in na­ture and hence, it was dis­cov­ered and not in­vented.

2. Ben­jamin Franklin didn’t dis­cover elec­tric­ity

While Franklin is of­ten given credit for the dis­cov­ery, this is sim­ply false.

While he con­ducted a se­ries of very im­por­tant ex­per­i­ments re­gard­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween elec­tric­ity and light­ning, the dis­cov­ery of elec­tric­ity pre­dates him by mil­lenia.

3. The an­cient Greeks dis­cov­ered static elec­tric­ity

An­cient Greek schol­ars who lived around 600 B.C. dis­cov­ered the fact that if am­ber and fur were rubbed to­gether, they would at­tract one an- other - eureka, static elec­tric­ity.

On top of this, in the 1930’s ar­chae­ol­o­gists dis­cov­ered an­cient Ro­man pots that had been wrapped in cop­per sheets, which sci­en­tists be­lieve were ac­tu­ally proto-bat­ter­ies.

It is be­lieved these bat­ter­ies were used for the pur­pose of elec­tro­plat­ing coins and other ob­jects of value.

4. Just what is elec­tric­ity?

To un­der­stand the fun­da­men­tals of elec­tric­ity, we need to be­gin by fo­cus­ing in on atoms.

An atom is built with a com­bi­na­tion of three dis­tinct par­ti­cles: elec­trons, pro­tons, and neu­trons. Each atom has a cen­ter nu­cleus, where the pro­tons and neu­trons are densely packed to­gether. Sur­round­ing the nu­cleus are a group of or­bit­ing elec­trons.

Elec­trons are crit­i­cal to the work­ings of elec­tric­ity - the as­tute will no­tice a com­mon theme in their names. In its most sta­ble, balanced state, an atom will have the same num­ber of elec­trons as pro­tons.

Elec­tric­ity it­self is gen­er­ated by the flow of elec­tric charge (‘charge’ be­ing a prop­erty of both pro­tons - which have a pos­i­tive charge, and elec­trons - which have a neg­a­tive charge).

In or­der to move charge we need charge car­ri­ers, and that’s where our knowl­edge of atomic par­ti­cles – specif­i­cally elec­trons and pro­tons – comes in handy.

The charge of elec­trons and pro­tons is im­por­tant, be­cause it pro­vides us the means to ex­ert a force on them - elec­tro­static force.

Elec­tro­static force (also called Coulomb’s law) is a force that op­er­ates be­tween charges.

It states that charges of the same type re­pel each other, while charges of op­po­site types are at­tracted to­gether.

Op­po­sites at­tract, and likes re­pel. To gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity, enough elec­tro­static force must be ex­erted on an elec­tron to free it from one atom, and move to an­other.

Now con­sider a cop­per wire: mat­ter filled with count­less cop­per atoms.

As our free elec­tron is float­ing in a space be­tween atoms, it’s pulled and prod­ded by sur­round­ing charges in that space.

In this chaos the free elec­tron even­tu­ally finds a new atom to latch on to; in do­ing so, the neg­a­tive charge of that elec­tron ejects an­other elec­tron from the atom.

Now a new elec­tron is drift­ing through free space look­ing to do the same thing.

This chain ef­fect can con­tinue on and on to cre­ate a flow of elec­trons called ‘elec­tric cur­rent’.

And Voila, you have elec­tric­ity.

Check out next week’s ar­ti­cle for more in­ter­est­ing facts about elec­tric­ity.

BRIGHT SPARK: While Ben­jamin Franklin is most of­ten cred­ited with the dis­cov­ery of elec­tric­ity, this is ac­tu­ally false. Mankind has been zap­ping them­selves for sci­ence since the time of the an­cient Greeks.

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