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An electric current is a stream of
charged particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies matter, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spa ...
s, such as
electron The electron is a subatomic particle (denoted by the symbol or ) whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge. Electrons belong to the first generation (particle physics), generation of the lepton particle family, and are general ...

electron
s or
ion An ion () is an atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ...
s, moving through an
electrical conductor In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. ...
or space. It is measured as the net rate of flow of
electric charge Electric charge is the physical property A physical property is any property Property is a system of rights that gives people legal control of valuable things, and also refers to the valuable things themselves. Depending on the nature of th ...
through a surface or into a
control volume In continuum mechanics and thermodynamics Thermodynamics is a branch of physics that deals with heat, Work (thermodynamics), work, and temperature, and their relation to energy, radiation, and physical properties of matter. The behavior of the ...

control volume
. The moving particles are called
charge carrier In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Phy ...
s, which may be one of several types of particles, depending on the conductor. In
electric circuit An electrical network is an interconnection of electrical component An electronic component is any basic discrete device or physical entity in an electronic system used to affect electrons or their associated fields. Electronic componen ...

electric circuit
s the charge carriers are often
electron The electron is a subatomic particle (denoted by the symbol or ) whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge. Electrons belong to the first generation (particle physics), generation of the lepton particle family, and are general ...

electron
s moving through a
wire A wire is a single usually cylindrical A cylinder (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Euro ...

wire
. In
semiconductor A semiconductor material has an value falling between that of a , such as metallic copper, and an , such as glass. Its falls as its temperature rises; metals behave in the opposite way. Its conducting properties may be altered in useful ways ...
s they can be electrons or
holes A hole is an opening in or through a particular medium, usually a solid body. Holes occur through natural and artificial processes, and may be useful for various purposes, or may represent a problem needing to be addressed in many fields of engin ...
. In an
electrolyte An electrolyte is a medium containing ions that is electrically conducting Electrical resistivity (also called specific electrical resistance or volume resistivity) is a fundamental property of a material that quantifies how strongly it resist ...

electrolyte
the charge carriers are
ion An ion () is an atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ...
s, while in
plasma Plasma or plasm may refer to: Science * Plasma (physics), one of the four fundamental states of matter * Plasma (mineral) or heliotrope, a mineral aggregate * Quark–gluon plasma, a state of matter in quantum chromodynamics Biology * Blood plasma ...
, an ionized gas, they are ions and electrons. The SI unit of electric current is the
ampere The ampere (, ; symbol: A), often shortened to "amp",SI supports only the use of symbols and deprecates the use of abbreviations for units. is the base unit of electric current An electric current is a stream of charged particles, such as ele ...

ampere
, or ''amp'', which is the flow of electric charge across a surface at the rate of one
coulomb The coulomb (symbol: C) is the International System of Units International is an adjective (also used as a noun) meaning "between nations". International may also refer to: Music Albums * International (Kevin Michael album), ''International'' ( ...

coulomb
per second. The ampere (symbol: A) is an SI base unit Electric current is measured using a device called an
ammeter An ammeter (from ''ampere meter'') is a measuring instrument A measuring instrument is a device to measure a physical quantity A physical quantity is any phenomenon that can be measured with an instrument or be calculated for. A physical quanti ...

ammeter
. Electric currents create
magnetic fields A magnetic field is a vector field that describes the magnetic influence on moving electric charge Electric charge is the physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when placed in an electromagnetic field. There are two ...
, which are used in motors, generators,
inductor An inductor, also called a coil, choke, or reactor, is a passive Passive may refer to: * Passive voice, a grammatical voice common in many languages, see also Pseudopassive (disambiguation), Pseudopassive * Passive language, a language from whi ...

inductor
s, and
transformer A transformer is a passive electrical device that transfers electrical energy from one electrical circuit to another, or multiple Electrical network, circuits. A varying current in any one coil of the transformer produces a varying magnetic flux ...

transformer
s. In ordinary conductors, they cause
Joule heating Joule heating, also known as resistive, resistance, or Ohmic heating, is the process by which the passage of an electric current An electric current is a stream of charged particles, such as electrons or ions, moving through an electrical condu ...
, which creates
light Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visual perception, perceived by the human eye. Visible light is usually defined as having wavelengths in the range of 400–700 nan ...

light
in
incandescent light bulbs image of the tungsten filament of an incandescent light bulb An incandescent light bulb, incandescent lamp or incandescent light globe is an electric light with a wire #Filament, filament heated until it glows. The filament is enclosed in a gla ...
. Time-varying currents emit
electromagnetic waves In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies matter, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through ...

electromagnetic waves
, which are used in
telecommunications Telecommunication is the transmission of information by various types of technologies over , radio, , or other systems. It has its origin in the desire of humans for communication over a distance greater than that feasible with the , but with ...
to broadcast information.


Symbol

The conventional symbol for current is , which originates from the French phrase ''intensité du courant'', (current intensity). Current intensity is often referred to simply as ''current''. The symbol was used by
André-Marie Ampère André-Marie Ampère (, ; ; 20 January 177510 June 1836) was a French physicist A physicist is a scientist A scientist is a person who conducts Scientific method, scientific research to advance knowledge in an Branches of science, area of ...
, after whom the unit of electric current is named, in formulating
Ampère's force law In magnetostatics, the force of attraction or repulsion between two current-carrying wires (see first figure below) is often called Ampère's force law. The physical origin of this force is that each wire generates a magnetic field, following t ...
(1820). The notation travelled from France to Great Britain, where it became standard, although at least one journal did not change from using to until 1896.


Conventions

In a conductive material, the moving charged particles that constitute the electric current are called
charge carrier In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Phy ...
s. In metals, which make up the wires and other conductors in most
electrical circuit An electrical network is an interconnection of electrical component An electronic component is any basic discrete device or physical entity in an electronic system used to affect electrons or their associated fields. Electronic component ...

electrical circuit
s, the positively charged
atomic nuclei The atomic nucleus is the small, dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom, discovered in 1911 by Ernest Rutherford based on the 1909 Geiger-Marsden experiments, Geiger–Marsden gold foil experiment. After the d ...
of the atoms are held in a fixed position, and the negatively charged
electron The electron is a subatomic particle (denoted by the symbol or ) whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge. Electrons belong to the first generation (particle physics), generation of the lepton particle family, and are general ...

electron
s are the charge carriers, free to move about in the metal. In other materials, notably the
semiconductor A semiconductor material has an value falling between that of a , such as metallic copper, and an , such as glass. Its falls as its temperature rises; metals behave in the opposite way. Its conducting properties may be altered in useful ways ...
s, the charge carriers can be positive ''or'' negative, depending on the
dopant A dopant, also called a doping agent, is a trace of impurity element that is introduced into a chemical material to alter its original electrical Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion Image ...
used. Positive and negative charge carriers may even be present at the same time, as happens in an
electrolyte An electrolyte is a medium containing ions that is electrically conducting Electrical resistivity (also called specific electrical resistance or volume resistivity) is a fundamental property of a material that quantifies how strongly it resist ...

electrolyte
in an
electrochemical cell An electrochemical cell is a device capable of either generating electrical energy Electrical energy is energy derived from electric potential energy or kinetic energy. When used loosely, ''electrical energy'' refers to energy that has been c ...
. A flow of positive charges gives the same electric current, and has the same effect in a circuit, as an equal flow of negative charges in the opposite direction. Since current can be the flow of either positive or negative charges, or both, a convention is needed for the direction of current that is independent of the type of
charge carrier In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Phy ...
s. The direction of ''conventional current'' is arbitrarily defined as the direction in which positive charges flow. Negatively charged carriers, such as the electrons (the charge carriers in metal wires and many other electronic circuit components), therefore flow in the opposite direction of conventional current flow in an electrical circuit.


Reference direction

A current in a wire or
circuit element Electrical elements are conceptual abstractions representing idealized electrical components, such as resistors, capacitor A capacitor is a device that stores electric charge in an electric field. It is a passivity (engineering), passive el ...
can flow in either of two directions. When defining a variable I to represent the current, the direction representing positive current must be specified, usually by an arrow on the
circuitCircuit may refer to: Science and technology Electrical engineering * Electrical circuit, a complete electrical network with a closed-loop giving a return path for current ** Analog circuit, uses continuous signal levels ** Balanced circuit, p ...

circuit
schematic diagram A schematic, or schematic diagram, is a representation of the elements of a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded a ...

schematic diagram
. This is called the ''reference direction'' of the current I. When analyzing electrical circuits, the actual direction of current through a specific circuit element is usually unknown until the analysis is completed. Consequently, the reference directions of currents are often assigned arbitrarily. When the circuit is solved, a negative value for the current implies the actual direction of current through that circuit element is opposite that of the chosen reference direction.


Ohm's law

Ohm's law states that the current through a conductor between two points is directly
proportional Proportionality, proportion or proportional may refer to: Mathematics * Proportionality (mathematics), the property of two variables being in a multiplicative relation to a constant * Ratio, of one quantity to another, especially of a part compared ...
to the
potential difference Voltage, electric potential difference, electric pressure or electric tension is the difference in electric potential The electric potential (also called the ''electric field potential'', potential drop, the electrostatic potential) is def ...

potential difference
across the two points. Introducing the constant of proportionality, the
resistance Resistance may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Comics * Either of two similarly named but otherwise unrelated comic book series, both published by Wildstorm: ** ''Resistance'' (comics), based on the video game of the same title ** ''Th ...
, one arrives at the usual mathematical equation that describes this relationship: :I = \frac where ''I'' is the current through the conductor in units of
ampere The ampere (, ; symbol: A), often shortened to "amp",SI supports only the use of symbols and deprecates the use of abbreviations for units. is the base unit of electric current An electric current is a stream of charged particles, such as ele ...

ampere
s, ''V'' is the potential difference measured ''across'' the conductor in units of
volt The volt is the derived unit for electric potential The electric potential (also called the ''electric field potential'', potential drop, the electrostatic potential) is defined as the amount of work (physics), work energy needed to move a ...

volt
s, and ''R'' is the
resistance Resistance may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Comics * Either of two similarly named but otherwise unrelated comic book series, both published by Wildstorm: ** ''Resistance'' (comics), based on the video game of the same title ** ''Th ...
of the conductor in units of
ohm The ohm (symbol: Ω) is the SI derived unit SI derived units are units of measurement ' Measurement is the number, numerical quantification (science), quantification of the variable and attribute (research), attributes of an object or event, ...

ohm
s. More specifically, Ohm's law states that the ''R'' in this relation is constant, independent of the current.


Alternating and direct current

In
alternating current Alternating current (AC) is an electric current An electric current is a stream of charged particles, such as electrons or ions, moving through an electrical conductor or space. It is measured as the net rate of flow of electric charge through ...
(AC) systems, the movement of
electric charge Electric charge is the physical property A physical property is any property Property is a system of rights that gives people legal control of valuable things, and also refers to the valuable things themselves. Depending on the nature of th ...
periodically reverses direction. AC is the form of
electric power Electric power is the rate, per unit time, at which electrical energy Electrical energy is energy derived as a result of movement of electrically charged particles. When used loosely, ''electrical energy'' refers to energy that has been conve ...
most commonly delivered to businesses and residences. The usual
waveform In electronics The field of electronics is a branch of physics and electrical engineering that deals with the emission, behaviour and effects of electrons The electron is a subatomic particle In physical sciences, subatomic part ...
of an
AC power Instantaneous power in an electric circuit is the rate of flow of energy past a given point of the circuit. In alternating current Alternating current (AC) is an electric current which periodically reverses direction and changes its magnitude ...
circuit is a
sine wave A sine wave or sinusoid is any of certain mathematical curves that describe a smooth periodic oscillation Oscillation is the repetitive variation, typically in time Time is the indefinite continued sequence, progress of existence and ev ...

sine wave
, though certain applications use alternative waveforms, such as
triangular A triangle is a polygon In geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ''wikt:γῆ, geo-'' "earth", ''wikt:μέτρον, -metron'' "measurement") is, with arithmetic, one of the oldest branches of mathematics. It is conce ...

triangular
or
square wave A square wave is a non-sinusoidal periodic waveform in which the amplitude alternates at a steady frequency Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time A unit of time is any particular time Tim ...

square wave
s.
Audio Audio most commonly refers to sound In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies matter, its Motion ( ...
and
radio Radio is the technology of signaling and communicating Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the act of developing Semantics, meaning among Subject (philosophy), entities or Organization, groups through the use ...
signals carried on electrical wires are also examples of alternating current. An important goal in these applications is recovery of information encoded (or ''
modulated In electronics Electronics comprises the physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum and matter. It uses active devices to control electron flow by amplifier, amplifi ...
'') onto the AC signal. In contrast,
direct current Direct current (DC) is one-directional flow Flow may refer to: Science and technology * Flow (fluid) or fluid dynamics, the motion of a gas or liquid * Flow (geomorphology), a type of mass wasting or slope movement in geomorphology * Flow (math ...
(DC) refers to a system in which the movement of electric charge in only one direction (sometimes called unidirectional flow). Direct current is produced by sources such as
batteries Battery may refer to: Energy source * Electric battery, an electrochemical device to provide electrical power ** Automotive battery, a device to provide power to certain functions of an automobile ** List of battery types * Energy storage, inclu ...
,
thermocouple A thermocouple is an electrical device consisting of two dissimilar electrical conductors forming an electrical junction. A thermocouple produces a temperature-dependent voltage as a result of Seebeck effect, and this voltage can be interpreted ...

thermocouple
s,
solar cell A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell, is an electrical device that converts the energy of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect, which is a physics, physical and Chemical substance, chemical phenomenon.
s, and
commutator In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers ( and ), formulas and related structures (), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (), and quantities and their changes ( and ). There is no gene ...
-type electric machines of the
dynamo A dynamo is an that creates using a . Dynamos were the first electrical generators capable of delivering power for industry, and the foundation upon which many other later devices were based, including the , the , and the . Today, the simple ...

dynamo
type. Alternating current can also be converted to direct current through use of a
rectifier A rectifier is an electrical device that converts Religious conversion is the adoption of a set of beliefs identified with one particular religious denomination A religious denomination is a subgroup within a religion Religion is a ...

rectifier
. Direct current may flow in a
conductor Conductor or conduction may refer to: Music * Conductor (music), a person who leads a musical ensemble like, for example, an orchestra. * Conductor (album), ''Conductor'' (album), an album by indie rock band The Comas * Conduction, a type of ...
such as a wire, but can also flow through
semiconductor A semiconductor material has an value falling between that of a , such as metallic copper, and an , such as glass. Its falls as its temperature rises; metals behave in the opposite way. Its conducting properties may be altered in useful ways ...
s,
insulators Insulator may refer to: * Insulator (electricity) An electrical insulator is a material in which the electron does not flow freely or the atom of the insulator have tightly bound electrons whose internal electric charge Electric charge is th ...
, or even through a
vacuum A vacuum is a space Space is the boundless three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called parameter A parameter (from the Ancient Gree ...

vacuum
as in electron or ion beams. An old name for direct current was ''galvanic current''.


Occurrences

Natural observable examples of electric current include
lightning Lightning is a naturally occurring electrostatic discharge Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is the sudden flow of electricity Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion Image:Leaving Yongsan ...

lightning
, , and the
solar wind The solar wind is a stream of charged particles released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun, called the solar corona, corona. This plasma (physics), plasma mostly consists of electrons, protons and alpha particles with kinetic energy between . ...

solar wind
, the source of the polar auroras. Man-made occurrences of electric current include the flow of conduction electrons in metal wires such as the overhead power lines that deliver
electrical energy Electrical energy is energy derived as a result of movement of electrically charged particles. When used loosely, ''electrical energy'' refers to energy that has been converted ''from'' electric potential energy. This energy is supplied by the comb ...

electrical energy
across long distances and the smaller wires within electrical and electronic equipment. Eddy currents are electric currents that occur in conductors exposed to changing magnetic fields. Similarly, electric currents occur, particularly in the surface, of conductors exposed to
electromagnetic wave In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular s ...

electromagnetic wave
s. When oscillating electric currents flow at the correct voltages within
radio antenna In radio engineering, an antenna or aerial is the interface between radio wave Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum longer than infrared light. Radio waves have frequencie ...

radio antenna
s,
radio wave Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies ma ...
s are generated. In
electronics The field of electronics is a branch of physics and electrical engineering that deals with the emission, behaviour and effects of electrons The electron is a subatomic particle In physical sciences, subatomic particles are smaller than ...
, other forms of electric current include the flow of electrons through
resistor A resistor is a that implements as a circuit element. In electronic circuits, resistors are used to reduce current flow, adjust signal levels, to , active elements, and terminate s, among other uses. High-power resistors that can dissipat ...

resistor
s or through the vacuum in a
vacuum tube A vacuum tube, electron tube, valve (British usage), or tube (North America), is a device that controls electric current An electric current is a stream of charged particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστή ...
, the flow of ions inside a
battery Battery may refer to: Energy source * Electric battery, an electrochemical device to provide electrical power ** Automotive battery, a device to provide power to certain functions of an automobile ** List of battery types * Energy storage, inclu ...
, and the flow of
holes A hole is an opening in or through a particular medium, usually a solid body. Holes occur through natural and artificial processes, and may be useful for various purposes, or may represent a problem needing to be addressed in many fields of engin ...
within metals and
semiconductor A semiconductor material has an value falling between that of a , such as metallic copper, and an , such as glass. Its falls as its temperature rises; metals behave in the opposite way. Its conducting properties may be altered in useful ways ...
s. A biological example of current is the flow of ions in
neurons A neuron or nerve cell is an electrically excitable cell that communicates with other cells via specialized connections called synapse In the nervous system In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living ...

neurons
and nerves, responsible for both thought and sensory perception.


Current measurement

Current can be measured using an
ammeter An ammeter (from ''ampere meter'') is a measuring instrument A measuring instrument is a device to measure a physical quantity A physical quantity is any phenomenon that can be measured with an instrument or be calculated for. A physical quanti ...

ammeter
. Electric current can be directly measured with a
galvanometer A galvanometer is an electromechanical In engineering Engineering is the use of scientific method, scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, and b ...

galvanometer
, but this method involves breaking the
electrical circuit An electrical network is an interconnection of electrical component An electronic component is any basic discrete device or physical entity in an electronic system used to affect electrons or their associated fields. Electronic component ...

electrical circuit
, which is sometimes inconvenient. Current can also be measured without breaking the circuit by detecting the magnetic field associated with the current. Devices, at the circuit level, use various
techniques Technique or techniques may refer to: Music * The Techniques, a Jamaican rocksteady vocal group of the 1960s *Technique (band), a British female synth pop band in the 1990s *Technique (album), ''Technique'' (album), by New Order, 1989 *Techniques ( ...
to measure current: *
Shunt resistor In electronics, a shunt is a device that creates a low-Electrical resistance, resistance path for electric current, to allow it to pass around another point in the electrical network, circuit.Rudolf F. Graf, ''Modern dictionary of Electronics'', M ...
s *
Hall effect The Hall effect is the production of a voltage Voltage, electric potential difference, electric pressure or electric tension is the difference in electric potential The electric potential (also called the ''electric field potential'', ...

Hall effect
current sensor transducers *
Transformers ''Transformers'' is a produced by American toy company and Japanese toy company . It follows the battles of sentient, living autonomous robots, often the s and the s, who can transform into other forms, such as vehicles and animals. The franc ...
(however DC cannot be measured) *
Magnetoresistive Magnetoresistance is the tendency of a material (often ferromagnetic) to change the value of its electrical resistance In electronics and electromagnetism, the electrical resistance of an object is a measure of its opposition to the flow of ele ...

Magnetoresistive
field sensors *
Rogowski coil A Rogowski coil is a toroid of wire used to measure an alternating current through a cable encircled by the toroid. The picture shows a Rogowski coil encircling a current-carrying cable. The output of the coil, , is connected to a lossy integrato ...

Rogowski coil
s *
Current clamp In electrical and electronic engineering Printed circuit board Electronic engineering (also called electronics and communications engineering) is an electrical engineering discipline which utilizes nonlinear and active electrical components ...

Current clamp
s


Resistive heating

Joule heating, also known as ''ohmic heating'' and ''resistive heating'', is the process of power dissipation by which the passage of an electric current through a
conductor Conductor or conduction may refer to: Music * Conductor (music), a person who leads a musical ensemble like, for example, an orchestra. * Conductor (album), ''Conductor'' (album), an album by indie rock band The Comas * Conduction, a type of ...
increases the
internal energy The internal energy of a thermodynamic system is the energy contained within it. It is the energy necessary to create or prepare the system in any given internal state. It does not include the kinetic energy of motion of the system as a whole, ...
of the conductor, converting
thermodynamic work In thermodynamics Thermodynamics is a branch of physics that deals with heat, Work (thermodynamics), work, and temperature, and their relation to energy, radiation, and physical properties of matter. The behavior of these quantities is govern ...
into
heat In thermodynamics Thermodynamics is a branch of physics that deals with heat, Work (thermodynamics), work, and temperature, and their relation to energy, entropy, and the physical properties of matter and radiation. The behavior of these ...

heat
. The phenomenon was first studied by
James Prescott Joule James Prescott Joule (; 24 December 1818 11 October 1889) was an English physicist A physicist is a scientist A scientist is a person who conducts Scientific method, scientific research to advance knowledge in an Branches of science, ...

James Prescott Joule
in 1841. Joule immersed a length of wire in a fixed
mass Mass is the quantity Quantity is a property that can exist as a multitude or magnitude, which illustrate discontinuity and continuity. Quantities can be compared in terms of "more", "less", or "equal", or by assigning a numerical value ...
of
water Water (chemical formula H2O) is an , transparent, tasteless, odorless, and , which is the main constituent of 's and the s of all known living organisms (in which it acts as a ). It is vital for all known forms of , even though it provide ...

water
and measured the
temperature Temperature ( ) is a physical quantity that expresses hot and cold. It is the manifestation of thermal energy Thermal radiation in visible light can be seen on this hot metalwork. Thermal energy refers to several distinct physical concept ...

temperature
rise due to a known current through the wire for a 30
minute The minute is a unit Unit may refer to: Arts and entertainment * UNIT, a fictional military organization in the science fiction television series ''Doctor Who'' * Unit of action, a discrete piece of action (or beat) in a theatrical presentation ...
period. By varying the current and the length of the wire he deduced that the heat produced was
proportional Proportionality, proportion or proportional may refer to: Mathematics * Proportionality (mathematics), the property of two variables being in a multiplicative relation to a constant * Ratio, of one quantity to another, especially of a part compared ...
to the
square In Euclidean geometry, a square is a regular The term regular can mean normal or in accordance with rules. It may refer to: People * Moses Regular (born 1971), America football player Arts, entertainment, and media Music * Regular (Badfinger ...
of the current multiplied by the
electrical resistance The electrical resistance of an object is a measure of its opposition to the flow of electric current An electric current is a stream of charged particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epi ...
of the wire. :P \propto I^2 R This relationship is known as Joule's Law. The
SI unit The International System of Units, known by the international abbreviation SI in all languages and sometimes pleonastically as the SI system, is the modern form of the metric system The metric system is a that succeeded the decimal ...
of
energy In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regula ...

energy
was subsequently named the
joule The joule ( ; symbol: J) is a SI derived unit, derived unit of energy in the International System of Units. It is equal to the energy transferred to (or work (physics), work done on) an object when a force of one Newton (unit), newton acts on th ...

joule
and given the symbol ''J''. The commonly known SI unit of power, the
watt The watt (symbol: W) is a unit of power Power typically refers to: * Power (physics) In physics, power is the amount of energy transferred or converted per unit time. In the International System of Units, the unit of power is the watt, equa ...

watt
(symbol: W), is equivalent to one joule per second.


Electromagnetism


Electromagnet

In an electromagnet a coil of wires behaves like a magnet when an electric current flows through it. When the current is switched off, the coil loses its magnetism immediately. Electric current produces a
magnetic field A magnetic field is a vector field In vector calculus and physics, a vector field is an assignment of a vector to each point in a subset of space. For instance, a vector field in the plane can be visualised as a collection of arrows with ...

magnetic field
. The magnetic field can be visualized as a pattern of circular field lines surrounding the wire that persists as long as there is current.


Electromagnetic induction

Magnetic fields can also be used to make electric currents. When a changing magnetic field is applied to a conductor, an
electromotive force In electromagnetism Electromagnetism is a branch of physics involving the study of the electromagnetic force, a type of physical interaction that occurs between electric charge, electrically charged particles. The electromagnetic force is c ...
(EMF) is induced, which starts an electric current, when there is a suitable path.


Radio waves

When an electric current flows in a suitably shaped conductor at
radio frequencies Radio frequency (RF) is the oscillation Oscillation is the repetitive variation, typically in time, of some measure about a central value (often a point of equilibrium) or between two or more different states. The term '' vibration'' is prec ...
,
radio waves Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space a ...

radio waves
can be generated. These travel at the
speed of light The speed of light in vacuum A vacuum is a space devoid of matter. The word is derived from the Latin adjective ''vacuus'' for "vacant" or "Void (astronomy), void". An approximation to such vacuum is a region with a gaseous pressure m ...
and can cause electric currents in distant conductors.


Conduction mechanisms in various media

In metallic solids, electric charge flows by means of
electron The electron is a subatomic particle (denoted by the symbol or ) whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge. Electrons belong to the first generation (particle physics), generation of the lepton particle family, and are general ...

electron
s, from lower to higher
electrical potential The electric potential (also called the ''electric field potential'', potential drop, the electrostatic potential) is the amount of work energy needed to move a unit of electric charge Electric charge is the physical property of matter that c ...
. In other media, any stream of charged objects (ions, for example) may constitute an electric current. To provide a definition of current independent of the type of charge carriers, ''conventional current'' is defined as moving in the same direction as the positive charge flow. So, in metals where the charge carriers (electrons) are negative, conventional current is in the opposite direction to the overall electron movement. In conductors where the charge carriers are positive, conventional current is in the same direction as the charge carriers. In a
vacuum A vacuum is a space Space is the boundless three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called parameter A parameter (from the Ancient Gree ...

vacuum
, a beam of ions or electrons may be formed. In other conductive materials, the electric current is due to the flow of both positively and negatively charged particles at the same time. In still others, the current is entirely due to positive charge flow. For example, the electric currents in
electrolyte An electrolyte is a medium containing ions that is electrically conducting Electrical resistivity (also called specific electrical resistance or volume resistivity) is a fundamental property of a material that quantifies how strongly it resist ...

electrolyte
s are flows of positively and negatively charged ions. In a common lead-acid
electrochemical Electrochemistry is the branch of physical chemistry Physical chemistry is the study of macroscopic The macroscopic scale is the length scale on which objects or phenomena are large enough to be visible with the naked eye, without magnifying ...

electrochemical
cell, electric currents are composed of positive
hydronium In chemistry Chemistry is the scientific discipline involved with Chemical element, elements and chemical compound, compounds composed of atoms, molecules and ions: their composition, structure, properties, behavior and the changes they under ...

hydronium
ions flowing in one direction, and negative sulfate ions flowing in the other. Electric currents in sparks or
plasma Plasma or plasm may refer to: Science * Plasma (physics), one of the four fundamental states of matter * Plasma (mineral) or heliotrope, a mineral aggregate * Quark–gluon plasma, a state of matter in quantum chromodynamics Biology * Blood plasma ...
are flows of electrons as well as positive and negative ions. In ice and in certain solid electrolytes, the electric current is entirely composed of flowing ions.


Metals

In a
metal A metal (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is appro ...

metal
, some of the outer electrons in each atom are not bound to the individual molecules as they are in molecular solids, or in full bands as they are in insulating materials, but are free to move within the . These
conduction electron In solid-state physics Solid-state physics is the study of rigid matter, or solids, through methods such as quantum mechanics, crystallography, electromagnetism, and metallurgy. It is the largest branch of condensed matter physics. Solid-state ...
s can serve as
charge carrier In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Phy ...
s, carrying a current. Metals are particularly conductive because there are many of these free electrons, typically one per atom in the lattice. With no external
electric field An electric field (sometimes E-field) is the physical field that surrounds electrically-charged particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' ' ...

electric field
applied, these electrons move about randomly due to
thermal energy Thermal radiation in visible light can be seen on this hot metalwork. Thermal energy refers to several distinct physical concepts, such as the internal energy of a system; heat or sensible heat, which are defined as types of energy transfer (as is ...
but, on average, there is zero net current within the metal. At room temperature, the average speed of these random motions is 106 metres per second. Given a surface through which a metal wire passes, electrons move in both directions across the surface at an equal rate. As
George Gamow George Gamow (March 4, 1904 – August 19, 1968), born Georgiy Antonovich Gamov (russian: Георгий Антонович Гамов), was a Ukrainian-American theoretical physicist and cosmologist. He was an early advocate and developer of ...
wrote in his
popular science Popular science (also called pop-science or popsci) is an interpretation of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and Taxonomy (general), organizes ...
book, '' One, Two, Three...Infinity'' (1947), "The metallic substances differ from all other materials by the fact that the outer shells of their atoms are bound rather loosely, and often let one of their electrons go free. Thus the interior of a metal is filled up with a large number of unattached electrons that travel aimlessly around like a crowd of displaced persons. When a metal wire is subjected to electric force applied on its opposite ends, these free electrons rush in the direction of the force, thus forming what we call an electric current." When a metal wire is connected across the two terminals of a Direct current, DC voltage source such as a battery (electricity), battery, the source places an electric field across the conductor. The moment contact is made, the free electrons of the conductor are forced to drift toward the Positive (electrical polarity), positive terminal under the influence of this field. The free electrons are therefore the
charge carrier In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Phy ...
in a typical solid conductor. For a steady flow of charge through a surface, the current ''I'' (in amperes) can be calculated with the following equation: :I = \, , where ''Q'' is the electric charge transferred through the surface over a time ''t''. If ''Q'' and ''t'' are measured in
coulomb The coulomb (symbol: C) is the International System of Units International is an adjective (also used as a noun) meaning "between nations". International may also refer to: Music Albums * International (Kevin Michael album), ''International'' ( ...

coulomb
s and seconds respectively, ''I'' is in amperes. More generally, electric current can be represented as the rate at which charge flows through a given surface as: :I = \frac \, .


Electrolytes

Electric currents in
electrolyte An electrolyte is a medium containing ions that is electrically conducting Electrical resistivity (also called specific electrical resistance or volume resistivity) is a fundamental property of a material that quantifies how strongly it resist ...

electrolyte
s are flows of electrically charged particles (
ion An ion () is an atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ...
s). For example, if an electric field is placed across a solution of sodium, Na+ and chlorine, Cl (and conditions are right) the sodium ions move towards the negative electrode (cathode), while the chloride ions move towards the positive electrode (anode). Reactions take place at both electrode surfaces, neutralizing each ion. Water-ice and certain solid electrolytes called proton conductors contain positive hydrogen ions ("protons") that are mobile. In these materials, electric currents are composed of moving protons, as opposed to the moving electrons in metals. In certain electrolyte mixtures, brightly coloured ions are the moving electric charges. The slow progress of the colour makes the current visible.


Gases and plasmas

In air and other ordinary gases below the breakdown field, the dominant source of electrical conduction is via relatively few mobile ions produced by radioactive gases, ultraviolet light, or cosmic rays. Since the electrical conductivity is low, gases are dielectrics or Electrical insulation, insulators. However, once the applied
electric field An electric field (sometimes E-field) is the physical field that surrounds electrically-charged particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' ' ...

electric field
approaches the dielectric breakdown, breakdown value, free electrons become sufficiently accelerated by the electric field to create additional free electrons by colliding, and ionizing, neutral gas atoms or molecules in a process called avalanche breakdown. The breakdown process forms a
plasma Plasma or plasm may refer to: Science * Plasma (physics), one of the four fundamental states of matter * Plasma (mineral) or heliotrope, a mineral aggregate * Quark–gluon plasma, a state of matter in quantum chromodynamics Biology * Blood plasma ...
that contains enough mobile electrons and positive ions to make it an electrical conductor. In the process, it forms a light emitting conductive path, such as a Electrostatic discharge, spark, electric arc, arc or
lightning Lightning is a naturally occurring electrostatic discharge Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is the sudden flow of electricity Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion Image:Leaving Yongsan ...

lightning
. Plasma (physics), Plasma is the state of matter where some of the electrons in a gas are stripped or "ionized" from their molecules or atoms. A plasma can be formed by high
temperature Temperature ( ) is a physical quantity that expresses hot and cold. It is the manifestation of thermal energy Thermal radiation in visible light can be seen on this hot metalwork. Thermal energy refers to several distinct physical concept ...

temperature
, or by application of a high electric or alternating magnetic field as noted above. Due to their lower mass, the electrons in a plasma accelerate more quickly in response to an electric field than the heavier positive ions, and hence carry the bulk of the current. The free ions recombine to create new chemical compounds (for example, breaking atmospheric oxygen into single oxygen [O2 → 2O], which then recombine creating ozone [O3]).


Vacuum

Since a "free space, perfect vacuum" contains no charged particles, it normally behaves as a perfect insulator. However, metal electrode surfaces can cause a region of the vacuum to become conductive by injecting free electrons or
ion An ion () is an atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ...
s through either field electron emission or thermionic emission. Thermionic emission occurs when the thermal energy exceeds the metal's work function, while field electron emission occurs when the electric field at the surface of the metal is high enough to cause quantum tunneling, tunneling, which results in the ejection of free electrons from the metal into the vacuum. Externally heated electrodes are often used to generate an electron cloud as in the electrical filament, filament or indirectly hot cathode, heated cathode of
vacuum tube A vacuum tube, electron tube, valve (British usage), or tube (North America), is a device that controls electric current An electric current is a stream of charged particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστή ...
s. cold cathode, Cold electrodes can also spontaneously produce electron clouds via thermionic emission when small incandescent regions (called ''cathode spots'' or ''anode spots'') are formed. These are incandescent regions of the electrode surface that are created by a localized high current. These regions may be initiated by field electron emission, but are then sustained by localized thermionic emission once a vacuum arc forms. These small electron-emitting regions can form quite rapidly, even explosively, on a metal surface subjected to a high electrical field. Vacuum tubes and Krytron, sprytrons are some of the electronic switching and amplifying devices based on vacuum conductivity.


Superconductivity

Superconductivity is a phenomenon of exactly zero Electrical resistance and conductance, electrical resistance and expulsion of
magnetic field A magnetic field is a vector field In vector calculus and physics, a vector field is an assignment of a vector to each point in a subset of space. For instance, a vector field in the plane can be visualised as a collection of arrows with ...

magnetic field
s occurring in certain materials when cryogenics, cooled below a characteristic Critical point (thermodynamics), critical temperature. It was discovered by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes on April 8, 1911 in Leiden. Like ferromagnetism and atomic spectral lines, superconductivity is a quantum mechanics, quantum mechanical phenomenon. It is characterized by the Meissner effect, the complete ejection of magnetic field, magnetic field lines from the interior of the superconductor as it transitions into the superconducting state. The occurrence of the Meissner effect indicates that superconductivity cannot be understood simply as the idealization of ''perfect conductor, perfect conductivity'' in classical physics.


Semiconductor

In a
semiconductor A semiconductor material has an value falling between that of a , such as metallic copper, and an , such as glass. Its falls as its temperature rises; metals behave in the opposite way. Its conducting properties may be altered in useful ways ...
it is sometimes useful to think of the current as due to the flow of positive "electron hole, holes" (the mobile positive charge carriers that are places where the semiconductor crystal is missing a valence electron). This is the case in a p-type semiconductor. A semiconductor has electrical conductivity intermediate in magnitude between that of a Electrical Conductor, conductor and an Insulator (electrical), insulator. This means a conductivity roughly in the range of 10−2 to 104 Siemens (unit), siemens per centimeter (S⋅cm−1). In the classic crystalline semiconductors, electrons can have energies only within certain bands (i.e. ranges of levels of energy). Energetically, these bands are located between the energy of the ground state, the state in which electrons are tightly bound to the atomic nuclei of the material, and the free electron energy, the latter describing the energy required for an electron to escape entirely from the material. The energy bands each correspond to many discrete quantum states of the electrons, and most of the states with low energy (closer to the nucleus) are occupied, up to a particular band called the ''valence band''. Semiconductors and insulators are distinguished from metals because the valence band in any given metal is nearly filled with electrons under usual operating conditions, while very few (semiconductor) or virtually none (insulator) of them are available in the ''conduction band'', the band immediately above the valence band. The ease of exciting electrons in the semiconductor from the valence band to the conduction band depends on the band gap between the bands. The size of this energy band gap serves as an arbitrary dividing line (roughly 4 electronvolt, eV) between semiconductors and Electrical insulation, insulators. With covalent bonds, an electron moves by hopping to a neighboring bond. The Pauli exclusion principle requires that the electron be lifted into the higher anti-bonding state of that bond. For delocalized states, for example in one dimensionthat is in a nanowire, for every energy there is a state with electrons flowing in one direction and another state with the electrons flowing in the other. For a net current to flow, more states for one direction than for the other direction must be occupied. For this to occur, energy is required, as in the semiconductor the next higher states lie above the band gap. Often this is stated as: full bands do not contribute to the electrical conductivity. However, as a semiconductor's temperature rises above absolute zero, there is more energy in the semiconductor to spend on lattice vibration and on exciting electrons into the conduction band. The current-carrying electrons in the conduction band are known as ''free electrons'', though they are often simply called ''electrons'' if that is clear in context.


Current density and Ohm's law

Current density is the rate at which charge passes through a chosen unit area. It is defined as a Vector (geometric), vector whose magnitude is the current per unit cross-sectional area. As discussed in #Reference direction, Reference direction, the direction is arbitrary. Conventionally, if the moving charges are positive, then the current density has the same sign as the velocity of the charges. For negative charges, the sign of the current density is opposite to the velocity of the charges. In SI, SI units, current density (symbol: j) is expressed in the SI base units of amperes per square metre. In linear materials such as metals, and under low frequencies, the current density across the conductor surface is uniform. In such conditions, Ohm's law states that the current is directly proportional to the potential difference between two ends (across) of that metal (ideal)
resistor A resistor is a that implements as a circuit element. In electronic circuits, resistors are used to reduce current flow, adjust signal levels, to , active elements, and terminate s, among other uses. High-power resistors that can dissipat ...

resistor
(or other ohmic device): :I = \, , where I is the current, measured in amperes; V is the
potential difference Voltage, electric potential difference, electric pressure or electric tension is the difference in electric potential The electric potential (also called the ''electric field potential'', potential drop, the electrostatic potential) is def ...

potential difference
, measured in
volt The volt is the derived unit for electric potential The electric potential (also called the ''electric field potential'', potential drop, the electrostatic potential) is defined as the amount of work (physics), work energy needed to move a ...

volt
s; and R is the
resistance Resistance may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Comics * Either of two similarly named but otherwise unrelated comic book series, both published by Wildstorm: ** ''Resistance'' (comics), based on the video game of the same title ** ''Th ...
, measured in Ohm (unit), ohms. For
alternating current Alternating current (AC) is an electric current An electric current is a stream of charged particles, such as electrons or ions, moving through an electrical conductor or space. It is measured as the net rate of flow of electric charge through ...
s, especially at higher frequencies, skin effect causes the current to spread unevenly across the conductor cross-section, with higher density near the surface, thus increasing the apparent resistance.


Drift speed

The mobile charged particles within a conductor move constantly in random directions, like the particles of a gas. (More accurately, a Fermi gas.) To create a net flow of charge, the particles must also move together with an average drift rate. Electrons are the charge carriers in most
metal A metal (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is appro ...

metal
s and they follow an erratic path, bouncing from atom to atom, but generally drifting in the opposite direction of the electric field. The speed they drift at can be calculated from the equation: :I=nAvQ \, , where *I is the electric current *n is number of charged particles per unit volume (or charge carrier density) *A is the cross-sectional area of the conductor *v is the drift velocity, and *Q is the charge on each particle. Typically, electric charges in solids flow slowly. For example, in a copper wire of cross-section 0.5 mm2, carrying a current of 5 A, the drift velocity of the electrons is on the order of a millimetre per second. To take a different example, in the near-vacuum inside a cathode ray tube, the electrons travel in near-straight lines at about a tenth of the
speed of light The speed of light in vacuum A vacuum is a space devoid of matter. The word is derived from the Latin adjective ''vacuus'' for "vacant" or "Void (astronomy), void". An approximation to such vacuum is a region with a gaseous pressure m ...
. Any accelerating electric charge, and therefore any changing electric current, gives rise to an Electromagnetism, electromagnetic wave that propagates at very high speed outside the surface of the conductor. This speed is usually a significant fraction of the speed of light, as can be deduced from Maxwell's equations, and is therefore many times faster than the drift velocity of the electrons. For example, in electric power transmission, AC power lines, the waves of electromagnetic energy propagate through the space between the wires, moving from a source to a distant external electric load, load, even though the electrons in the wires only move back and forth over a tiny distance. The ratio of the speed of the electromagnetic wave to the speed of light in free space is called the velocity factor, and depends on the electromagnetic properties of the conductor and the insulating materials surrounding it, and on their shape and size. The magnitudes (not the natures) of these three velocities can be illustrated by an analogy with the three similar velocities associated with gases. (See also hydraulic analogy.) * The low drift velocity of charge carriers is analogous to air motion; in other words, winds. * The high speed of electromagnetic waves is roughly analogous to the speed of sound in a gas (sound waves move through air much faster than large-scale motions such as convection) * The random motion of charges is analogous to heatthe thermal velocity of randomly vibrating gas particles.


See also

* Current density * Electric shock * Electrical measurements * History of electrical engineering * International System of Quantities * SI electromagnetism units * Single-phase electric power * Three-phase electric power * Two-phase electric power


Notes


References

{{DEFAULTSORT:Electric Current Electric current, SI base quantities