You might have been wondering how electrons can continuously flow in a uniform direction through wires without the benefit of these hypothetical electron Sources and Destinations. In order for the Source-and-Destination scheme to work, both would have to have an infinite capacity for electrons in order to sustain a continuous flow! Using the marble-and-tube analogy, the marble source and marble destination buckets would have to be infinitely large to contain enough marble capacity for a “flow” of marbles to be sustained.

The answer to this paradox is found in the concept of a circuit: a never-ending looped pathway for electrons. If we take a wire, or many wires joined end-to-end, and loop it around so that it forms a continuous pathway, we have the means to support a uniform flow of electrons without having to resort to infinite Sources and Destinations:

each electron advancing clockwise in this circuit pushes on the one in front of it, which pushes on the one in front of it, and so on, and so on, just like a hula-hoop filled with marbles. Now, we have the capability of supporting a continuous flow of electrons indefinitely without the need for infinite electron supplies and dumps. All we need to maintain this flow is a continuous means of motivation for those electrons, which we’ll address in the next section of this chapter.

It must be realized that continuity is just as important in a circuit as it is in a straight piece of wire. Just as in the example with the straight piece of wire between the electron Source and Destination, any break in this circuit will prevent electrons from flowing through it:

An important principle to realize here is that it doesn’t matter where the break occurs. Any discontinuity in the circuit will prevent electron flow throughout the entire circuit. Unless there is a continuous, unbroken loop of conductive material for electrons to flow through, a sustained flow simply cannot be maintained.


·         REVIEW:

·         A circuit is an unbroken loop of conductive material that allows electrons to flow through continuously without beginning or end.

·         If a circuit is “broken,” that means it’s conductive elements no longer form a complete path, and continuous electron flow cannot occur in it.

·         The location of a break in a circuit is irrelevant to its inability to sustain continuous electron flow. Any break, anywhere in a circuit prevents electron flow throughout the circuit.

Voltage and current in a practical circuit

Because it takes energy to force electrons to flow against the opposition of a resistance, there will be voltage manifested (or “dropped”) between any points in a circuit with resistance between them. It is important to note that although the amount of current (the quantity of electrons moving past a given point every second) is uniform in a simple circuit, the amount of voltage (potential energy per unit charge) between different sets of points in a single circuit may vary considerably:

Take this circuit as an example. If we label four points in this circuit with the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4, we will find that the amount of current conducted through the wire between points 1 and 2 is exactly the same as the amount of current conducted through the lamp (between points 2 and 3). This same quantity of current passes through the wire between points 3 and 4, and through the battery (between points 1 and 4).

However, we will find the voltage appearing between any two of these points to be directly proportional to the resistance within the conductive path between those two points, given that the amount of current along any part of the circuit’s path is the same (which, for this simple circuit, it is). In a normal lamp circuit, the resistance of a lamp will be much greater than the resistance of the connecting wires, so we should expect to see a substantial amount of voltage between points 2 and 3, with very little between points 1 and 2, or between 3 and 4. The voltage between points 1 and 4, of course, will be the full amount of “force” offered by the battery, which will be only slightly greater than the voltage across the lamp (between points 2 and 3).

This, again, is analogous to the water reservoir system:


Between points 2 and 3, where the falling water is releasing energy at the water-wheel, there is a difference of pressure between the two points, reflecting the opposition to the flow of water through the water-wheel. From point 1 to point 2, or from point 3 to point 4, where water is flowing freely through reservoirs with little opposition, there is little or no difference of pressure (no potential energy). However, the rate of water flow in this continuous system is the same everywhere (assuming the water levels in both pond and reservoir are unchanging): through the pump, through the water-wheel, and through all the pipes. So it is with simple electric circuits: the rate of electron flow is the same at every point in the circuit, although voltages may differ between different sets of points.



May 7, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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