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Text | Electricity or the Absolute Beginner | 001
Beginner Chris Greacen
© 1992 Chris Greacen
n Home Power articles, Ivolts and amps are
everyday words. Circuit schematics are nearly as common as photos. If these are mysteries to you, here are some conceptual tools to see how all this electricity stuff fits together.
Battery of 10 cells
So what is electricity anyway? If you’ve ever been shocked by a live wire or static electricity, you’ve had about the most direct experience of electricity of anyone. Beyond this, no one really knows what electricity is. On the other hand, we do know a lot of ways to make electricity, and even more ways to use it. All of these involve circuits.
Electrical Current ~ Water Current
A good way to think about electricity flowing in a circuit is to think of water in plumbing. Water flows through pipes. Electrical current flows in wires. A water current is a flow of water molecules; an electrical current is a flow of electrons. Pipes and wires can both be connected together into networks. Figure 1 above shows a schematic of an electrical circuit that uses a battery to power a record player. To the left is Dr. Klüge’s plumbing “circuit”, which uses water to do the same thing.
Voltage ~ Pressure
Electricity for this circuit comes from a battery. In the plumbing network, water under pressure is supplied by
the storage tank. The higher the storage tank is placed above the rest of the plumbing “circuit”, the greater the water pressure in the pipes. In the electrical circuit the analogue for pressure is the voltage. Voltage is raised by adding more cells to the battery.
In the plumbing case the water flows out of the storage tank and through a very narrow (small inner diameter) section of pipe. A narrow pipe presents more resistance to water flowing than a larger pipe. Thick copper wires carry lots of electricity easily, while thinner wires resist the flow of electricity. The property of an object to resist the flow of electrical current is called resistance. A resistor is an electrical part which has a known (usually large) resistance.
Water loses pressure if it flows though a pipe, and loses more if the pipe is narrow. Water loses pressure in the process of powering a turbine. The same thing happens with electricity. If a current flows through something with electrical resistance, then the voltage is reduced.
Fig. 1: Right: a schematic of a series electrical circuit powering a record player. Left: Dr. Klüge puts the final touches on an analagous plumbing “circuit”.
78 Home Power #31 • October / November 1992
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