Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

Flow of electrical charge in wires

One of my former students was the son of an electrician, and had become an electrician himself. He related to me how his father had refused to believe all his life that electrons really flowed through wires. If they had, he reasoned, the metal would have gradually become more and more damaged, eventually crumbling to dust.

His opinion is not at all unreasonable based on the fact that electrons are material particles, and that matter cannot normally pass through matter without making a hole through it. Nine-teenth-century physicists would have shared his objection to a charged-particle model of the flow of electrical charge. In the raisin-cookie model, however, the electrons are very low in mass, and therefore presumably very small in size as well. It is not surprising that they can slip between the atoms without damaging them.

Last Update: 2009-06-21