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Electronics >> Basics of Electronics >> Current

What is Current Current?

Charge is mobile and can flow freely in certain materials, called conductors. Metals and a few other elements and compounds are conductors. Materials that charge cannot flow through are called insulators. Air, glass, most plastics, and rubber are insulators, for example. And then there are some materials called semiconductors, that seemed to be good conductors sometimes but much less so other times. Silicon and germanium are two such materials.

There is a force between them, the potential for work, and thus a voltage. Now we connect a conductor between them, a metal wire.

On the positively charged sphere, positive charges rush along the wire to the other sphere, repelled by the nearby similar charges and attracted to the distant opposite charges.

The same thing occurs on the other sphere and negative charge flows out on the wire. Positive and negative charges combine to neutralize each other, and the flow continues until there are no charge differences between any points of the entire connected system.

There may be a net residual charge if the amounts of original positive and negative charge were not equal, but that charge will be distributed evenly so all the forces are balanced. If they were not, more charge would flow. The charge flow is driven by voltage or potential differences.

After things have quieted down, there is no voltage difference between any two points of the system and no potential for work. All the work has been done by the moving charges heating up the wire.

Two spheres with opposite charges are connected by a conductor, allowing charge to flow
   Fig - 1 : Two spheres with opposite charges are connected by a conductor, allowing charge to flow

The flow of charge is called electrical current. Current is measured in amperes (a), amps for short (named after another French scientist who worked mostly with magnetic effects.


What is Ampere?

An ampere is defined as a flow of one Coulomb of charge in one second past some point.

While a Coulomb is a lot of charge to have in one place, an ampere is a common amount of current; about one ampere flows through a 100 watt incandescent light bulb, and a stove burner or a large motor would require ten or more amperes.

On the other hand low power digital circuits use only a fraction of an ampere, and so we often use units of 1/1000 of an ampere, a milliamp, abbreviated as ma, and even 1/1000 of a milliamp, or a microamp, Ķa .

The currents on the RoboBoard are generally in the milliamp range, except for the motors, which can require a full ampere under heavy load. Current has a direction, and we define a positive current from point A to B as the flow of positive charges in the same direction. Negative charges can flow as well, in fact, most current is actually the result of negative charges moving. Negative charges flowing from A to B would be a negative current, but, and here is the tricky part, negative charges flowing from B to A would represent a positive current from A to B .

The net effect is the same: positive charges flowing to neutralize negative charge or negative charges flowing to neutralize positive charge; in both cases the voltage is reduced and by the same amount.

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