What is electricity?

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Electricity is all around us and most of us use it everyday. But do you really know what electricity is? To really understand electricity, you first have to start with an “atom”. Everything in the universe is made up of atoms. Let’s look at this ant. We think of ants as being pretty small. But, atoms are smaller. Much, much smaller. Atoms are so small, in fact, that one ant is made up of too many atoms to count. More than a billion! If you take an object and keep breaking it down to smaller units, eventually, you’ll be left with only atoms. Which we can call the building blocks of everything. Atoms have a couple of different parts. And a really important part of an atom is called an “electron”. Not all atoms have the same number of electrons. The number of electrons in an atom can change, because electrons can move between atoms. Electricity is the movement or flow of electrons from one atom to another. This flow of electrons is called current, “electric current”. Electrons can move in all materials. But they can move through some materials better than others. If electrons can move quickly and easily in a material, then that material is a “conductor”. A conductor is anything that allows electric current to flow from one point to another. The opposite of a conductor is an “insulator”. An insulator is a material that does not let electrons move well and doesn’t conduct electricity. Have you ever seen the inside of a wire? The inside is usually made up of copper or another conductive metal. While the outside is made of plastic, an insulator. The copper wire helps the electrons flow, while the plastic insulator helps keeps the electricity from being wasted and prevents us from being shocked. To use electric current to power things, you have to create a complete pathway for the electric current to follow. This is called an “electric circuit”. An electric circuit is like a racetrack of conductive materials that let the electrons flow in a specific way. For example, let’s try to light a lightbulb. First, you need a power source like a battery. Next, you need to connect wires to the battery. And finally, the lightbulb. Presto! Just like that the circuit has been completed and the lightbulb lights up! To learn more about electricity and circuits, explore the Curiosity Machine!

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