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Basic electricity

In a light bulb electrical energy is changed to heat and light energy
An electric fire gives out a lot of heat energy
An electric car turns electrical energy into motion
When a sports cup is plated electrical energy is used to produce a chemical change
In a battery electrical energy is produced by a chemical reaction
When you watch television it is electricity that "brings" you the picture
In a steel works a large electromagnet is used to lift up steel sheets
When you listen to a record it is electrical energy that makes the loudspeaker move to make sound
Lightning is an example of "natural electricity" on a grand scale
Electrostatic dust collectors are used in chimneys to help protect the environment

Electricity is very important in our lives. You can see from the list that electrical energy can be changed into:
Motion - in the car and loudspeaker
Magnetism - in the electromagnet
Chemical energy - in silver plating the cup
Heat and light - in a light bulb and fire

Just try and imagine our lives without electricity!

Make a list of all the things that you use in a day that run on electricity:
(a) during the school term
(b) in the holidays


Electrical energy is so important that it is worth looking at how we can make it:

(a) Battery

Using a battery is one of the most common ways of making electricity. A battery converts chemical energy into electrical energy. Car batteries are made up of a number of cells connected together and really the word cell should be used to describe a simple battery with only one cell. Many of the batteries that you use are really cells.

You can make a simple battery by putting two rods, one of copper and one of zinc, into a lemon and connecting them to a torch bulb. The bulb should then light for a few seconds. The more lemons that you connect end to end the brighter the bulb. Connecting the lemons side by side will not change the brightness of the bulb but will make it last longer. If your lemon cell (battery) does not light a bulb try measuring the output voltage with a voltmeter.

You can also make a simple cell (the proper name for a battery) by putting a plate of copper and cone of zinc in a beaker of dilute aid. A small amount of energy will be produced as before and the bulb will light for a while. The electricity is produced because of the chemical reaction between the acid and the two metals.

There have been many advances in battery design over the last few years from the tiny ones sued in watches, rechargeable ones in mobile phones to the lightweight ones being developed to be used in electric cars.

(b) Generators and dynamos
These make electricity from motion and magnetism. A magnet is spun inside a coil of wire. The magnet can be turned by hand or by a turbine in a power station (powered by coal, gas or nuclear fission) or even by wind or friction (as in a bicycle dynamo). Most of the electricity used in the world is made this way.

(c) Static electricity

You can make static electricity by rubbing a piece of polythene with a duster or some fur. If you put the polythene near you hair some of your hairs will stand on end. You can also get some sparks when you take off a woollen jumper over a nylon shirt. Even a cat may become charged when it rolls on a synthetic carpet!


(d) Electricity from light
When light falls on a photoelectric cell a very small electric current is produced. It would need huge areas of these cells to give enough energy to run an electric fire. They are used to power spacecraft and in television cameras. A very important use of this is in digital CCD cameras. The pictures taken with these cameras can be stored and edited using a computer.

(e) Electricity from heat
If you join a copper and constantan wire and heat the join a small voltage is produced - this device is called a thermocouple. It is used to measure temperature.

(f) Electricity from crystals
When a quartz crystal is squeezed a voltage is produced across the faces of the crystal. This is called the piezo electric effect and is used in some cooker lighters and bunsen burner lighters

(g) Electricity from gases
Special cells called fuel cells use the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to give electricity. They are used in spacecraft.


© Keith Gibbs 2020