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8 Surprising Myths About Electricity

Myths. They exist surrounding nearly every topic of our lives. The least of which is not electricity. How each of these eight myths developed, remains a mystery. One thing is certain however; we are here to clear the air!

In this article, we explore 8 common myths that are told about electricity.

Myth #1: Batteries Store Charge

Though we charge batteries, they never run out of charge. How can this be? We need to first start by explaining how batteries function.

When an electron leaves a battery at one terminal, another electron enters at the other terminal. What actually happens is that the chemicals that allow the battery to function as it should, have all reacted. This is what we think of when we say a battery is dead. Therefore, it is better to think about batteries running out of energy, not charge.

Myth #2: Batteries and Generators "Create Electricity"

The electric current in copper wires are merely a flow of electrons. However, these electrons are not created or supplied by batteries or generators. The wire itself provides the electrons in the form of copper atoms.

The electrons flowing through a circuit were there before the battery or generator was even connected. In fact, the electrons were there long before the copper was mined and formed into wire! The raw copper atoms are what are providing the flow of electrons.

So what do the batteries and generators actually do? They merely pump the electrons through the circuit.

Myth #3: Electricity is Made of Electrons

This is a half-truth myth. Sounds confusing, right?

Electric currents which flow through metals are indeed made of electrons. But electric currents can flow through other substances. Where else can electric currents flow? Two other places are electrolytes or in plasma.

Take for example a neon sign. To create the glow in the sign, electrons flow in one direction while positively charged atoms flow in the opposite direction.

Another example is the flow of currents with electrolytes. This can be seen in batteries, dirt, and humans. These currents are entirely composed of ions, or electrified atoms. Ions are electrified. In acids, half the flowing ions are actually protons.

Myth #4: Electricity is like Water Inside of a Pipe

The main problem with this analogy is that water is not a form of energy. Water is a fluid. In a hydraulic system, two things are flowing: the fluid and energy. In this type of system, the fluid moves slowly while the energy moves fast.

In a hydraulic system, the energy travels to all parts of the fluid loops instantly. The water or fluid travels far slower. Comparatively, electricity is like the fluid, not the energy.

A better comparison is to say electricity is like baseballs in a tube. If you push one baseball into one end of the tube, the balls will move in the opposite direction. The mechanical energy generated by this travels through all of the baseballs almost instantly, but the baseballs themselves move at a slower rate.

Myth #5: Static Electricity is Caused By Friction

Remember when you were a kid in school and rubbed your shoes on the carpet so that you could shock someone? This is likely where this myth stems from. While shocking your friend in this manner is a form of static electricity, it is not the way that it is actually created.

Static electricity is caused by touching, not friction. All that is required for static electricity to take place is two insulating materials, dissimilar from one another, to be placed in intimate contact and then separated.

A good example of this is a plastic wheel that rolls across a rubber surface. In this case, both the wheel and surfaced become electrified without rubbing. The contact between the wheel and surface is enough to electrify both.

Myth #6: Being Shocked by Low Voltage is Not Dangerous

It is most commonly believed that only high voltage shocks are dangerous. This is simply a myth. While a child putting a fork in a wall outlet presents a major danger for parents, so does a child handling batteries with their toys. Unfortunately, most parents are not aware of this.

Car batteries, which are just 12 volts, have been known to cause serious problems, even death in extreme circumstances!

Myth #7: Electricity Travels at The Speed of Light

The major reason for this myth is the association that we develop at young age between electricity and lightning.

Light travels through empty space at 186,000 miles per second. Electricity travels through copper at 95.1% the speed of light. However, the electrons in the electric current move very slowly. In fact, the second hand on your watch moves faster than the electrons!

Myth #8: Power Lines are Insulated

Unlike your phone charger, overhead power lines are not insulated. So why can birds sit on them? Because birds do not create a circuit when sitting on one line. If they were to sit on two lines at the same time or touch the ground there would then be flow of electrons, spelling disaster for the bird.

Overhead power lines can have currents ranging from 1,000 volts to as much as 700,000 volts running through them. With such high voltages, why are power lines not insulated? The answer is money. Insulation can be quite expensive.

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