Ask an Expert about Electricity


Have you ever wondered why shoes hanging on a power line don’t get fried? Or whether electric eels really create electricity? Now you can get answers to these and all your electricity-related questions.

Click on a question below to see the answer:

NEW! What is electricity?

Answer: Electricity is a form of energy carried by the movement of electrons. An electron is a particle that orbits the center of an atom. The electrons of some atoms, like those of copper and other metals, are only loosely attached, which allows electricity to travel through these materials easily. These types of materials are known as “conductors.” An outside force—such as light, heat, pressure, or a chemical reaction—can cause electrons to break free and get “bumped” from one atom to the next. A sequence of electrons then passes from atom to atom. This continuous flow of electrons from atom to atom through a conductor is what we call electricity.

Can electricity change your hair color?

Answer: No, electricity can’t change your hair color, but it could possibly make your parents’ hair go gray from concern if they see you forgetting to be cautious around electric power lines! Check out this website’s section on Tree and Power Line Safety to learn ways to stay safe around electricity, and keep your parents’ hair color from turning gray sooner than they might like!

Can electricity bring you back to life?

Answer: Perhaps you’ve seen medical shows on TV where a doctor or nurse puts a metal paddle in each hand, yells “Clear!” and then places the paddles against a patient’s bare chest, resulting in his or her body rising with a jolt? What’s happening here is the patient is being “zapped” with a machine known as a defibrillator. Defibrillators are used when the cells of a patient’s heart fall out of rhythm with each other and can no longer pump blood, resulting in a heart attack. Death can occur within minutes in this situation. The defibrillator “shocks” every cell in the heart simultaneously, so they all start up again in rhythm. So the answer is yes, electricity can bring a person back to life!

Why do you have to stay away from tall objects when there is a lightning storm?

Answer: It depends on the size (and voltage) of the battery and the volume and saltiness of the water as to whether it would cause a shock through water. (The saltier the water, the better it conducts electricity.) If you mean the small batteries that power things like flashlights or electric screwdrivers, and you’re sitting in a bathtub in water they fall into—let alone something bigger like a swimming pool—the answer is that they don’t generate enough energy to give you a shock. However, if you were sitting in that bathtub and someone dropped a car battery into it, you would probably get a nasty shock indeed!

What is a series circuit?

Answer: Imagine an electrical circuit as a loop of wire with both ends connected to a source of power, like the + and - poles of a battery, or the points inside a plug in a wall outlet. Connected to the loop is the thing you want to power—the current passes through it and makes it work. In a series circuit, all the things powered through the circuit are on that one loop. An everyday example is a string of holiday lights. When one light burns out, it blocks the current from flowing through the entire circuit, and the bulb or LED has to be replaced. That’s a disadvantage of series circuits as opposed to parallel ones, where each thing needing power is on its own loop from the power source.

When in the world do you think there will be solar power everywhere?

Answer: There already is solar power everywhere, in the sense that solar power is being used in pretty much every country today as part of a mix of energy resources that also includes wind power, coal, natural gas, oil, hydroelectric power, and nuclear fission. The percentage of electricity generated by solar power worldwide is growing very fast, but faster in some places than others. Solar and wind power together currently generate about 0.5 percent of the world’s energy. It’s been estimated that solar energy could produce 2.5 percent of the world’s electricity by 2025 at current growth rates—though following the recent Paris Conference on climate change, many countries are pledging to increase those rates.

What is dangerous outside, regarding electricity?

Answer: Electricity is all around us, so we need to be cautious outside as well as inside. Here are some potentially dangerous outdoor electrical items you might find in your neighborhood: overhead and underground power lines, transmission towers, substations, transformers, service wires, and electric meters. You can learn how to stay safe around these and other outdoor electrical hazards by playing the Find the Hidden Dangers game on this website.

Why are outlets dangerous?

Answer: Electric outlets are dangerous if you use them incorrectly. The wires inside these outlets carry electricity. If you put something into an outlet that does not belong there, it can conduct electricity from these wires into your body, and you will get a serious shock. Only plugs and plastic childproofing safety caps belong in outlets.

What is electricity, and what is it a form of?
—Bob, Sophia, Daniel

Answer: Electricity is created by the movement of electrons, which are the tiny particles that orbit the centers of atoms. When electrons move between atoms through a wire, electricity results. Electricity is a form of energy.

Can electricity kill you?

Answer: Yes! Contact with electricity can cause serious injury or even death. That’s why it’s so important to stay away from power lines and to learn how to use electrical appliances and power cords safely.

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