6. How electricity works

I have described electrons as energy collectors that work with protons to deliver nuclear particle energy desires. It is why electron and proton numbers are about the same in structures. To effectively perform their role electrons seek their own energy gathering space and keep at a distance from other electrons by exchanging energies with them. Outer electrons of atomic structures can be energy linked to the protons of more than one atom and as such are responsible for the covalent, ionic and metallic bonds that make for extended structures.     

In metallic bonding outer electrons of atoms repetitively move their energy links to protons of different atoms. I think such wandering electrons, often referred to as an electron gas, are a metallic structures repeated attempts at finding a more efficient energy arrangement. It takes very little energy to encourage an outer electron to shift its energy link to another atom nucleus. I often see these electrons described as free. In no way are they free. Their shifting energy links to protons are very strong and give a metal structure its considerable strength.

Silver, copper, gold and aluminium are described as good conductors because their outer electrons can be most easily encouraged to move between atoms. A good conductor may also be described as having low resistance because there is little resistance to the movement of their outer electrons from atom to atom. We said above that electrons like their own space away from other electrons and they maintain such space by exchanging photon energies. It is why one electron motion will trigger other electron motions.

If we create an electron surplus at one end of a piece of wire (the negative battery terminal in our diagram) the electrons seek space and push into the wire increasing the electron density in it. They do so between that terminal and the switch. The electrons cannot break free of the wire as the surround air does not want them and the switch will not allow their further movement along the wire as air is a high resistor.

If we create a deficit of electrons at the battery positive terminal wire electrons are encouraged to move and link to the surplus protons there. The spaces electrons move into are often described as holes. Electrons in the wire between the positive terminal and the switch are spread more thinly than they were.

Close the switch in the above circuit and the more dense electrons on the negative side of the switch are able to move and better satisfy the energy demanding proton surpluses on the positive side of the switch. The circuit enables electron motions as delivered by their photon energy exchanges throughout the whole of the circuit. Protons link to electrons to get their photon energy needs. In our completed circuit protons have a better than normal energy supply because of the surplus electrons provided by the supply battery voltage. Protons willingly release electrons because another electron is already involved in meeting its energy needs.  

Be clear, electrons do not move at high speed. They may move rapidly between atoms but their progress along a circuit wire is slow. When we close a switch light speed photon energy interactions between electrons deliver almost instantaneous electron motions throughout the circuit. That is why our light comes on so quickly.

Electrical current is measured in amps. One amp equates to 6.25 billion, billion electron movements past a wire location every single second. That is a lot of electrons in motion but it is only about the number of outer electrons in one tenth of a millimetre of a suitable diameter wire. It means an electron’s progress along a wire in such circumstances is as low as one half of a metre every hour. Tortoises move faster than that.

Tungsten particle structures in the light bulb filament of our circuit do not easily give up their outer electrons. Tungsten has a higher resistance because its protons hold onto their outer electrons more strongly than copper protons do. Moving tungsten outer electrons between atoms requires the photon energy interactions of many approaching copper electrons followed by the energy desires of many protons short of electrons. Electron pushes are always more effective than proton energy desires. This difference between the photon pressures approaching electrons apply on one another and the photon flows to energy desiring protons that encourage electrons into suitable surround “holes” is a feature much evident in the “p” and “n” materials of semi conductor technology.

The photon energy exchanges between many approaching copper electrons and single tungsten electrons are what we call kinetic energy. They set tungsten electrons in motion and may temporarily add to their mass as they accelerate them away (no motion energy store). They are not free and the energy desires of protons and their desire to serve protons means their motions are quickly slowed and they accelerate toward some point of desire in the tungsten structure. The particles now pro actively use their mass energies to slow this motion. These slowing kinetic energy exchanges are what we see as the photons of visible light and infra red heat emitted by a tungsten light bulb. The tungsten electron having found a new home will for a short while engage in more normal energy exchanges with its new parent protons before once more being pressured by copper electron approaches.

If we look at the bulb we can see such photon radiations coming from it. Such visible light photons reach many surround objects that absorb them. They then emit other photon energies that we see as the colour and shape of those objects. Many of the infra red heat photons emitted are absorbed by other particles of the tungsten element. These higher than normal photon energy exchanges cause the tungsten to get very hot. To stop the tungsten burning we exclude oxygen by encasing it in a glass vacuum.

Copper outer electrons pressured into moving in an electrical circuit also release interacting kinetic energy when they re-engage with atoms. Such energy releases are small and almost unnoticeable by comparison with the tungsten kinetic energy releases but they still warm the wire. It might seem that the surround air remains uninfluenced by the energy changes in the wire but that is not so. Air electrons move within their structures in response to the wire electrons but they are not removed from those structure. Air is not a good conductor and only in situations like lightning strikes will air part with electrons.

Voltage in an electrical circuit is a measure of the photon pressures that cause electron motions. We will in a later blog on chemical energy look at how a battery works. The electron mass energy movements created by voltage happen in mobile phone circuits, in car circuits and in the wired circuits that bring electrical energy to our homes and their appliances from power stations hundreds of miles away. It doesn’t matter whether electrons have a directional movement or a to and fro movement, as for our mains alternating voltage supplies. They still instigate energy interactions in our appliances.

Electrical energy in our homes we measure in kilowatt hours. It is 3,600,000 joules of energy. Joules of electrical energy we calculate by multiplying volts by amps by time in seconds (remember amps is 6.25 billion billion electrons passing a wire section every second). These electrical units have been chosen so that one joule of electrical energy is the same as the joule of mechanical energy that is one Newton of force acting through a metre.

There are many electrical devices and so it might seem strange that I now choose to show how a capacitor works. I do so because a capacitor illustrate how energy can be stored in a structure, but also because capacitor energy stores are much more common than you might realise.  The mobile phone you hold to your ear may have more than 500 tiny capacitors in it and your television or camera would not work without them.

Capacitors comprise of two metal plates with an insulating material between them called a dielectric. They are often cylindrical in shape as the plates are coiled up to save space. Connect a battery energy source to a capacitor and a short duration decreasing current flows that creates high levels of electron shortages at the positive plate and high numbers of extra electrons at the negative plate. Electrons do not move between the plates but their photon energy exchanges act linearly across the plates and influence the dielectric insulating material.

That dielectric material does not part with its electrons but its particle structures are distorted by the photon pressures. The dielectric is said to be polarised and there is much more energy being exchanged by its particles.  The particles are being held in a more agitated energy storing state. They have more mass energy in excess and they would like to revert to a lesser energy state. Disconnecting the battery from the capacitor does not change the situation as the stored energy has nowhere to go but connect a circuit to that capacitor and it takes its opportunity to release the added mass energy stored in its pate and dielectric particles and in the photon energy exchanges between them as a circuit energy flow. The mass energy store capability of capacitors is much used in alternating voltage situations to smooth out energy flows.

It is opportune here to consider what voltage is. It is a measure of the pressure on photons to move between two points. Such pressure is transmitted along a circuit by photon energy exchanging electrons and resisted by proton energy holds on those electrons. A voltmeter actually measures the effectiveness of the voltage push by responding to the rate of the electron flow between those points (current) through a very high known resistance.

The energies of gravity and the energies of force interactions that are kinetic energies are like the energies in electrical flows all about photon interactions. However they are different because whilst one is to do with the energy desires of structures in which neutrons, protons and electrons all have separate roles, the other is mainly about the desires of mobile electrons to keep at a distance from one another. We are able to equate such energies because we have chosen units that equate them.

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