Electricity is mysterious energy. It shows it power in brilliant ear shattering flashes of lightening! It is magical in the blue light of charged air in St. Elmo’s fire. It can make our hair stand on end! It exists in the nervous systems of humans and animals. Electricity is energy created when electrons move. Electrons move from one material to another when the number of electrons in the cells of the materials is not equal and when there is something for them to move through (a conductor or electrolyte) and if there is a complete path. This complete path is called a closed circuit. The electricity you know best and use the most, is the electricity you plug in to. Electricity, as you know it, did not exist 100 years ago! Scientists and inventors since the 1600’s worked to discover the principles of electricity. Allessandro Volta, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla all contributed to discover and transform electricity from a powerful force of nature into a useable form of energy. Today, created electricity is considered a secondary energy source because it is created by other, primary sources of energy such as nuclear energy, coal, water, etc. In the modern world we take this amazing source of power for granted. Begin this journey to explore the amazing phenomenon of electricity.
Electricity is energy and energy is power!
Activity 1 – static electricity
You can generate electricity. All you need is a balloon! Blow up your balloon and rub it on your hair. Longer hair will stand up! You are generating static electricity. Blow up the balloon; go into a dark room taking the balloon with you and a wool blanket or sweater or coat. Rub the balloon on the wool item and you will see sparks fly!
You have created static electricity!
Activity 2 – Electricity Then and Now
Electricity flows around the earth in the atmosphere. It is a system that contains electrical generators, currents and TLES in earth’s atmosphere. TLES are Transient Luminous events (http://vlf.stanford.edu/research/transient-luminous-events). At the present we know about three types, each with different subtypes. Sprites come in the shape of columns and carrots. Eleves are huge expanding rings. Blue Jets shoot out of storm clouds. Electricity consists of positive and negative charges. With slow motion film footage, scientists have discovered blades of grass, plants, trees and lightening rods reaching out to connect with these electrical events in surges of lightening. When these charges connect there is a release of power. Electricity as we know it today did not exist 100 years ago! Since the 1600’s scientists and inventors worked to understand electricity’s mysterious power, but it was Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) who demonstrated that lightening is actually electricity. Before electricity, we lit our houses with kerosene lamps, preserved food with large chunks of ice, and kept warm with the heat of our fireplaces and wood or coal-burning stoves. One of the early American founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, helped revolutionize the way that people thought about electricity. Rather than simply admire lightning, he sought to harness its power. In 1751 one of Franklin’s friends published letters that Franklin had written him about his experiments; the result was an 86 page book entitled Experiments and Observations on Electricity; the book was published in English, French, Italian and German. Through his observations Franklin gave terms to this new field, many of which we still use today. He helped distinguish between conductors and insulators, and proved that electricity was a single “fluid” and flowed continuously in one direction. In 1867 Thomas Edison (1847-1931) invented the incandescent light bulb. In the late 1800s, Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) pioneered the generation, transmission, and use of alternating current (AC) electricity that transmits over much greater distances than (DC) direct current. Tesla’s inventions brought indoor lighting to our homes and power to our industries. Today we harness electricity into usable forms-A/C (Alternating Current), and D/C (Direct Current). Our lives have changed radically with the discovery of electricity. Electricity enables us to accomplish much more with our time and allows us to use less human energy. Make an electricity timeline.Electricity flows around the earth in the atmosphere. It is a system that contains electrical generators, currents and TLES in earth’s atmosphere.
Activity 3 – electricity 101
Electricity moves fast! It moves in a connected current. It is so speedy (300,000 kilometers second) that in the time it takes you to turn on a light switch, it could travel around the world 8 times! Electricity consists of positive and negative charges. See how positive and negative charges create energy. When these charges connect there is a release of power. To use this power a complete connection that is called a circuit must be created. Electricity is carried through wires in a closed circuit. The larger the wires, the larger the current that can flow. The three units of current electricity are voltage (V), current (I) and resistance ®. Current is the flow of electrons through a conductor. Volts are the pressure that pushes electricity to move along the current. Voltage is measured in volts. Current is measured in amps. Resistance is the obstruction of flow and is measured in ohms. If you know two of the three parts of an electrical current you can find the other. Using the following vocabulary, draw and clearly label the parts of an electric current.
Amp one ampere is 6.25 x 1018 electrons per second passing through a circuit
Appliance a device that uses electricity
BTU abbreviation for British thermal unit
Conductor material (usually metal) that allows electricity to flow through like zinc, copper, and silver and gold
Circuit a ircuit is created when electrons flow through conductors, and release electrical power
Insulator non-conductive material generally used to sheath conductors like plastic and rubbers
Resistance resistance is measured in units called ohms
Voltage pressure that pushes electrons to flow
Watts measurement of power typically used in electricity (Named after James Watt)
Transformer device that changes electricity into voltage
Activity 4 – Powering the planet
On earth we create complete connections or paths to use electricity. We call the electricity that moves or flows along a path current electricity. The path is called a circuit. In most communities the electricity comes from a power plant or plants that use other forms of energy to create electricity. Click on the
animation to see the process. We harness the power of electricity by using machines that have motors in them called generators. These motors allow this release of energy to be used in a constructive manner. Once the generators have created electricity, the power is set to transformers. The most common forms used are unfortunately non-renewable resources like coal, natural gas and oil that cause a lot of pollution and other environmental and political problems. Some countries are moving from use of non-renewable resources to use of renewable resources such as sunlight, wind, geothermal and hydrology. Draw a picture of the key components of an electrical grid system. Research your local community and locate your power plants. Make a pie chart showing the percentage of plants powered by renewable and those by non-renewable resources.
Connect with electricity!
Activity 5 – electricity equations
The three units of current electricity are voltage (V), current (I) and resistance ®. Current is the flow of electrons through a conductor. If you know two of the amounts you can determine the third. Write these down in your journal and then practice different combinations of them to find out voltage, resistance, current and power.
Voltage (volts) = current (amperes) x resistance (ohms) or V = W/A Current (amperes) = voltage (volts) / resistance (ohms) or A = W/V
Resistance (ohms) = voltage (volts) / current (amperes) or W = V / A
Power (watts) = voltage (volts) x current (amperes) or W = V x A
Activity 6 – Electricity at Home
If you look at a standard outlet in your house you will see two slots and a hole centered below the two slots. One of the slots is positive and the other is negative. You should not put any objects into an electrical outlet, as you could complete an electrical circuit and cause great harm to yourself or someone else. When you plug into this outlet, you are connecting to a source of electricity and completing a circuit. In your house you have many, many uses for electricity. You use electricity for lights, hot water, computers, televisions, heating and cooling. In your kitchen alone you will have many appliances that use electricity to do the work that they were designed to do. Count how many electrical outlets you have in your house. Make a chart that shows whether the outlets are single, double, triple or more. Make an equation that shows how the number of singles plus the number of doubles (x2) plus the number of triples (x 3) to equal your total number of outlets. Write this equation in your journal and upload it to the gallery!
Activity 7 – Phantom Electricity
Does your house use electricity? In this exercise you will count how many outlets and how many appliances your house contains. An appliance is a piece of equipment that uses electricity. Appliances are found all around the house, but are relatively new to our definition of comfort. Barely a century ago we had no interior running water, no lights at night, no freezers, no washing machines, no televisions nor computers. Most appliances are designed to save us time. Most appliances use electricity. Make a list of the appliances that are plugged in continuously. Appliances that are plugged in still draw an electrical current even when they are not in use! This is called phantom energy and is a needless use of power. Next, highlight the appliances you really could live without. Finally, with another color, highlight the appliances that you can unplug when not in use.
Activity 8 – Build A Battery
Count Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), an Italian scientist, invented the first source of continuous electric current, the electric battery. You can make a battery, too! You will need paper towels, foil, a stack of ten copper pennies, wire, tape and salt water. Follow these steps to make your battery:
1. Collect the materials 2. Wash the pennies (be sure to use soapy water). 3. Cut paper towel and foil circles. Using the penny as a template trace 10 circles on the paper towel and 10 circles on the foil and cut them out. 4. Soak the paper towel circles in very salty water without ripping them. You now have a battery! Each of the groups of three disks is a cell, which means our battery shown here has ten cells. You can show that bringing the wires close together in a dark room is generating electricity; a spark will jump between them. 5. Make a stack of pennies, paper towel circles and foil circles. Start with a penny, then add a paper towel and then add the foil. Make as many of these three ply stacks as you have material available. 6. Stack the stacks into one stack. Take two pieces of wire and attach one with tape to the bottom penny and one with tape to the top foil. 7. Test your battery in a dark room. Touch the two wires together and you will see a spark. The stacks of penny, paper, and foil are called ’cells’. When you touch the wires together you have created a circuit. Extra electrons in one metal will move to another metal where there are less electrons. You have provided the metal and also the salt water that allows them to move.
Activity 9 – Power failure preparedness
Sometimes there is a storm or an excessive use of power that causes the electrical grid to fail. When this happens, people find themselves without power. You should be prepared. At night this is called a ‘black out’. When large cities have black outs it can be very frightening, especially if you live on the 100th floor and cannot use the elevators! Find out what you need to do in the case of a power failure. Consider loss of light at night, heat, or cooling, food storage, etc. Prepare two lists of emergency essentials. Make a summer list and make a winter list.
- Chibitronics: How to Videos to Create and Demonstrate Circuits
- Circuit Construction Kit Univ. Of Boulder
- Circuit Diagrams Flash Animation
- Discover The Power of Graphene (pdf)
- DLectricity Nuit Blanche Art + Light
- Drawing Circuit Diagrams Using Symbols
- Earth's Atmospheric Global Electric Circuit
- Electricity Science Projects:San Franciso Exploratorium
- Electricity Simulations Colorado U
- Electricity Teaching Resources: INteractives, Games, Quizzes
- Exploring Nature Circuits & Types of Circuits
- Flash Animations to teach Electricity Very Cool!
- Friction Physics
- Lightening in Super Slow Motion
- Make the Bulb Brighter
- Motor Effect: San Franciso Exploratorium
- PBS FIdgit Factory Circuit Game
- Roominate Toy
- Sprites and Jets Diagram
- Static Electricity: Science Made Simple
- The Story of Electricity
- Transient Luminous Events
- What is Static Electricity
- Where does electricity come from?