Intro to Electricity

The average person uses a lot of electricity in the many things they do every day. We are used to being able to turn on a light, watch the television, use our mobile devices, and stream music or videos. Because electricity is so much a part of our lives, we should know something about it.

It Starts with Atoms

The first thing that we need to know about electricity involves understanding atoms. These are the small particles that make up all matter. They are so tiny that it takes billions and billions of atoms to make up something like a spoon.

Even though atoms are incredibly small, there are even smaller objects inside each atom called electrons, protons, and neutrons. When it comes to the topic of electricity, it all relates to “charges.” Electrons have a negative charge (-) and protons have a positive charge (+).

Collection of six atomic hydrogen-like single-electron orbitals showing 1s, 2s, 2p, 3s, 3p and 3d orbitals.

The amount for each of these is the same, however, they are opposites. Neutrons and protons adhere together in the center of the atom and this is called the nucleus. The electrons are spinning fast around the outside of the atom, and it’s the proton positive charge that keeps the electrons from flying away from the atom.

Definition of Electricity

Protons are trapped inside of the nucleus and it’s the electrons that primarily give us electricity. Due to this fact, the name “electricity” is taken from the word electron. For some elements, when a force is applied to the electrons outside of the atom, they can loosen and move to another atom.

When a lot of the atoms are together and the electrons are relocating from one atom to another one in the same direction, it creates “electricity.”  So the definition of electricity is the “flow” of electrons.

Making Electricity Flow

To make electricity you must first create an electric circuit. This is an action that causes the flow of electrons to go in one direction.

When you turn on a light switch in your home you are creating an electric circuit that allows the electrons to flow to a light bulb so that it turns on. The elements of an electric circuit include:

  • A source of power that could be the outlet on the wall or a battery.
  • A “load” which is what the electricity is powering. In the example, the light bulb is the load.
  • A switch, which is the item that connects the circuit so that it allows the electricity flow.

Visible/Invisible Electricity

There aren’t very many places that you could actually “see” electricity. One thing that is commonly seen and is electricity is in the form of lightning. Lightning happens when a lot of electrons move rapidly from one place to another place and create a “spark.”

Lightning happens when these electrons move from cloud to cloud, cloud to the surface, and surface to cloud. Smaller examples of visible electricity is in the form of static electricity.

This can be seen in a darkened room when you scoot your feet over a carpet in a low humidity or dry room and then touch something metal, like a doorknob. The “spark” is electricity.

AC/DC Electricity

There are two main forms of electricity:

Direct Current (or DC) which is the type found in a flashlight and is created by using batteries.

Alternating Current (or AC) which is the type of electricity that is in your home’s outlets.

Electricity is Dangerous

  • The power in electricity is enough to injure and even kill, so you should never play with electricity.
  • Electrical equipment have instructions that must be followed and unless a device is designed for children, always have an adult be responsible for connecting to electrical items.
  • Never stick or push anything into a wall outlet that isn’t a proper electrical plug.
  • When unplugging something from a wall outlet do not pull on the cord, but instead use the plug.
  • Never place electronic items in water, especially when they are plugged in as this can cause an electrocution.
  • Don’t sit items on top of electrical cords as they can become damaged and be a fire hazard.

Fun facts About Electricity:

  • A lightning bolt can last less than one second and yet can measure up to three million volts (3,000,000)
  • A static electricity spark can measure up to 3,000 volts.
  • Electricity can be made from a lot of different things including water, wind, the sun, and even manure from animals.
  • The first power plant in the U.S. was opening in 1882 in New York City and owned by Thomas Edison.
  • Although Thomas Edison didn’t invent the first light bulb, he did invent the light bulb that remained lit for more than just a few seconds.
  • Benjamin Franklin didn’t discover electricity, instead he proved the theory that lightning is a form of electrical energy.


What does “DC” stand for?
Direct Current

What does “AC” stand for?
Alternating Current

What object in an atom is primarily responsible for electricity?

What are the three main parts of an atom?
neutron, proton, electron

What is the definition of electricity?
the “flow” of electrons