How does electricity work?

The flow of electrons creates electric current. Electric current is always going right back where it came from, in kind of a circle. The official name for this circle of flowing electricity is a "circuit."

There are a couple of different ways that this flow of electrons is used to make stuff happen.

The first is heat. If the electrons are flowing through something like a copper wire, they're pretty happy, because the wire is easy to get through ­ it offers little "resistance" to the flow of electrons. But if they're trying to get through something that "resists" the flow of electrons, they have to try harder to get through, and in all the pushing and shoving, they create heat.

As a matter of fact, electricity can make something so hot that it actually starts to glow. Maybe you've seen the wires inside a toaster get red hot. That happens because they offer resistance to the flow of electrons, and so a flow of current makes them get hot.

Another use for electric heat is in regular light bulbs. Inside light bulbs is a very tiny wire. This wire is so skinny that the electrons have to crowd and squeeze to get through. It offers so much resistance that it gets hot enough to actually glow so brightly that you can see by it.

Another way we use electric current is for magnetism. Maybe you've wrapped a coil of wire around a nail, and connected both ends of the wire to a flashlight battery. If you do that, the nail will turn into a magnet.

The reasons for that are pretty complicated, but we're all really glad it works that way. You see, electric motors work from the magnetism produced by electric magnets. The magnets are arranged in kind of a circle, and they pull the moving part of the motor around and make it turn. Electric motors are used all over the world to push, pull, move, lift and pump just about everything.

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