Everything You Need to Know About Metals and Electricity

Most of the wires we use on a daily basis are made of copper. Have you ever wondered why? Well, copper is a metal and metals are good conductors of electricity. Metals consist of movable electrically charged particles known as electrons. When you apply an electric charge to it, the electrons move and allow electricity to pass through. Now, there are certain exceptions too, with insulators being one. These have low electron mobility. This blog has covered everything about metals and electricity. Just give it a read and clarify your doubts regarding the same.

Metals And Electricity

Metals and Electricity: A Brief Overview

Is there a relationship between metals and electricity? I have received such queries while teaching students at a reputed University in the United States. The electrons in metals allow electricity to move between the atoms. Pure metals tend to provide the best conductivity. The presence of impurities tends to restrict the flow of electrons. This is why alloys are usually poor conductors of electricity.
Consider the cookware that is used in daily households. Copper utensils are known to be the best material used for cooking. Why? It is because copper conducts electricity at a faster pace compared to aluminium. No wonder copper cookware is so expensive!

Why Do Metals Conduct Electricity?

Metals conduct electricity due to the movement of electrically charged particles or electrons. The atoms of metals consist of valence electrons, which are present in the outer shell of an atom and can freely move about. These valence electrons transmit electricity and heat.
When electricity is applied to the metal, the valence electrons gain the threshold energy. The threshold energy is the energy required by the electron to move off from its regular orbit. These electrons travel through the lattice that forms the physical structure of the metal. Under the electric field, the electrons move like the billiard balls knocking against each other, thereby passing the charge as they move.

direction of the electric field

Metals can conduct the maximum amount of electricity when there is no resistance. Thus, pure metals such as gold, silver and copper are considered to be the best conductors of electricity.

metallic Bonding
metallic Bonding

In metals, the attraction between atomic cores( Neutron and Positron) and the valence shell electrons is not very strong.

Metals & Non-Metals
Metals & Non-Metals

Thus, it is easy for the atom to lose an electron, and this feature makes metal an electropositive element. The valence electrons are so free to move that they can form a ‘sea’ of delocalised electrons when an electromagnetic field is applied. Steel too is an electropositive metal. Hence, it can conduct electricity pretty well.

Do All Metals Conduct Electricity?

Conductivity is the ability of a material to conduct energy. Electrons or rather valence electrons are responsible for this transmission. More the electrons are freer to move, better the transmission. Therefore, the valence and crystal structure of metals determine its rate of electrical conductivity. Most metals conduct electricity. It is just a matter of how well they transfer electricity. The electrical conductivity of a metal depends on its shape and size. Keeping that in mind, here is a list of metals in order of most conductive to least conductive:

• Silver
• Copper
• Gold
• Aluminium
• Zinc
• Nickel
• Brass
• Bronze
• Iron
• Platinum
• Carbon steel
• Lead
• Stainless steel

The electrical conductivity of metals may change based on temperature, impurities, electromagnetic fields, crystal structure, phases and frequency. An increase in temperature leads to thermal excitation of the atoms and reduces conductivity. Similarly, if there are multiple phases of materials, conductivity will slow down at the interface and may vary from one structure to another.

List Of Things That Conduct Electricity

Besides metals, there are other things that conduct electricity under conditions of normal temperature and pressure. A thick piece of matter will conduct better electricity than a thin piece. If you take two pieces of a material with the same thickness, the shorter material will conduct better electricity because it has less resistance. These factors remain the same no matter which material you choose for transmission. Some of the materials are listed below:

• Seawater
• Concrete
• Mercury
• Graphite
• Dirty water
• Lemon juice

Some common examples of insulators are glass, plastic, air, rubber and wood. In these materials, the electrons are tightly bound in the atoms and are hence unable to roam about freely.

Wrapping It Up,

Although we use conductors on a daily basis for a variety of tasks, insulators are equally significant. They protect us from the dangerous effects of electrical conductivity. We can always convert any material into another. For example, if we heat copper below 234.5-degree centigrade, it will start operating as a superconductor with zero resistance. But, it is rarely possible to convert insulators into conductors because one has to change the atomic structure of the material to make that possible.

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