Static electricity is a buildup of electric charges on objects. Charges build up when negative electrons are transferred from one object to another. The object that gives up electrons becomes positively charged, and the object that accepts the electrons becomes negatively charged. This can happen in several ways.
One way electric charges can build up is through friction between materials that differ in their ability to give up or accept electrons. When you wipe your rubber-soled shoes on the wool mat, for example, electrons rub off the mat onto your shoes. As a result of this transfer of electrons, positive charges build up on the mat and negative charges build up on you. Once an object becomes electrically charged, it is likely to remain charged until it touches another object or at least comes very close to another object. That’s because electric charges cannot travel easily through air, especially if the air is dry. Q: You’re more likely to get a shock in the winter when the air is very dry. Can you explain why? A: When the air is very dry, electric charges are more likely to build up objects because they cannot travel easily through the dry air. This makes a shock more likely when you touch another object.
Static Discharge What happens when you have become negatively charged and your hand approaches the metal doorknocker? Your negatively charged hand repels electrons in the metal, so the electrons move to the other side of the knocker. This makes the side of the knocker closest to your hand positively charged. As your negatively charged hand gets very close to the positively charged side of the metal, the air between your hand and the knocker also becomes electrically charged. This allows electrons to suddenly flow from your hand to the knocker. The sudden flow of electrons is static discharge. The discharge of electrons is the spark you see and the shock you feel.
Electric Circuit Basics A closed loop through which current can flow is called an electric circuit. In homes in the U.S., most electric circuits have a voltage of 120 volts. The amount of current (amps) a circuit carries depends on the number and power of electrical devices connected to the circuit. Home circuits generally have a safe upper limit of about 20 or 30 amps.
Parts of an Electric Circuit All electric circuits have at least two parts: a voltage source and a conductor. They may have other parts as well, such as light bulbs and switches.
The voltage source of this simple circuit is a battery. In a home circuit, the source of voltage is an electric power plant, which may supply electric current to many homes and businesses in a community or even to many communities.
The conductor in most circuits consists of one or more wires. The conductor must form a closed loop from the source of voltage and back again. In the Figureabove, the wires are connected to both terminals of the battery, so they form a closed loop.
Most circuits have devices such as light bulbs that convert electrical energy to other forms of energy. In the case of a light bulb, electrical energy is converted to light and thermal energy.
Many circuits have switches to control the flow of current. When the switch is turned on, the circuit is closed and current can flow through it. When the switch is turned off, the circuit is open and current cannot flow through it.
Circuit Diagrams When a contractor builds a new home, she uses a set of plans called blueprints that show her how to build the house. The blueprints include circuit diagrams. The diagrams show how the wiring and other electrical components are to be installed in order to supply current to appliances, lights, and other electric devices. You can see an example of a very simple circuit in the Figurebelow. Different parts of the circuit are represented by standard circuit symbols. An ammeter measures the flow of current through the circuit, and a voltmeter measures the voltage. A resistor is any device that converts some of the electricity to other forms of energy. For example, a resistor might be a light bulb or doorbell.
One Loop or Two? An electric circuit consists of at least one closed loop through which electric current can flow. Every circuit has a voltage source such as a battery and a conductor such as metal wire. A circuit may have other parts as well, such as lights and switches. In addition, a circuit may consist of one loop or two loops.
Series Circuit A circuit that consists of one loop is called a series circuit. You can see a simple series circuit below. If a series circuit is interrupted at any point in its single loop, no current can flow through the circuit and no devices in the circuit will work. In the series circuit below, if one light bulb burns out, the other light bulb won’t work because it won’t receive any current. Series circuits are commonly used in flashlights.
Parallel Circuit A circuit that has two loops is called a parallel circuit. A simple parallel circuit is sketched below. If one loop of a parallel circuit is interrupted, current can still flow through the other loop. In the parallel circuit below, if one light bulb burns out, the other light bulb will still work because current can bypass the burned-out bulb. The wiring in a house consists of parallel circuits.