by Deb on June 13, 2011


Electricity – can you imagine our world without it? Right now no heaters is the first thing to spring to mind for me, and I suppose no computers and *gasp* no internet would be serious. Life altering even. Electric lights, refrigerators – these have all changed how we live profoundly. And they all depend on electricity.


But also fascinating, how does it work?

Three things go together – magnets, movement, electricity. If you have two of them, you will get the third.

  • So a motor works by putting electricity through a coil with magnets around the outside -> movement.
  • An electromagnet works when you put electricity through a coil and move it -> magnetism.
  • And a generator works by spinning a turbine with coils of wire and magnets around it -> the magical electricity.

This is how most power stations work – a large turbine has powerful electromagnets inside it. Wound around the outside are coils of wire attached to leads, the more coils there are the more electricity it can produce. Something is used to spin the blades on the generator, which might be moving water or wind, or steam produced by burning fossil fuels. As it spins around the magnetic field changes, which induces an electric current in the coils outside.

plant generator

The rotor has electromagnets inside it and spins inside the coils of wire, where a current is induced.

Electric current

Electric currents are a bit like a party with an awkward number of guests. An electron joins a group around an atom, but then the group is too big and one of them wanders off to the next atom. Which makes that group too big so one gets kicked onto the next atom, then the next atom, and so on. It’s not necessarily the same electrons being passed from group to group, but there is always one being pushed along.

And it’s the electrons passing through that make your appliances work. They either trip switches or the modern equivalent close logic gates, or they might heat something up until it glows to make heat or light. Or in the case of fluorescent lights, they give energy to the chemicals inside which is given back as light.

For kids

Go around the house and find some electrical appliances. Then find out about what people used before electricity was invented!

It doesn’t have to be a big research project, going through their toys and finding all the ones with batteries can then lead to making some homemade toys like rattles and shakers. Imagine that they have to live without electricity – what would they do?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kilovars July 14, 2011 at 9:18 am

This article is basic however I wonder if anyone has ever stopped to imagine just what life would be like without electricity. Even things we consider to be “mechanical” would often not work or function properly without it. Energy and electricity is the one thing, that no matter what the economy is in the world, we will always need. When we find a substance that can super-conduct in normal human livable temperatures the world as we know it will change substantially!


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