Saturday, March 7, 2009

Clarity 101: a child's guide to electricity

Your attention please, class. Little A.? Sit up front please, so you won't disrupt the lesson. Ettarose? Leave little Canucklehead alone now. Canuck? Pay attention, please. No, you can't go have a drink now.

Today we are going to learn about electricity. Can you say "eee-lek-TRI-ci-tee?" Good.

What is electricity?

Electricity is the flow of electrons from one atom to another atom.

Oh, my! but you look puzzled already Chica. Just wait. No you can't go to the bathroom now, dear.

Everything in the universe is made up of tiny particles called atoms. Atoms are the building blocks of the universe. "Everything" means every tree, every star, every animal. Air and water too. Even YOU are made up of atoms. Yes, little Catherine, even you. Little teeny tiny Welsh atoms. Sit still, please.
Inside each of these tiny atoms are even smaller particles. Because they are smaller than the atom, they are called "subatomic particles." Yes, Sheila, it DOES make sense. Please don't talk though.

At the center of the atom is something called a nucleus. See this model I am holding up? No? Pretend you see a model, please. The nucleus is made up of extremely small particles called protons and neutrons. 

Revolving around the nucleus, almost like planets revolve around the sun, are other even smaller particles called electrons. Can you say eee-LECK-tron? Good! A proton is very small, but an electron is much, much smaller still. Yes. Yes. Don't shake your head little Debbie.

Each of these particles, protons and electrons, has an "electrical charge." An electrical charge is a kind of "force" within the particles. ::pops little Canucklehead on the side of the head sharply:: Do you understand "force," little Canuck? Yes, indeed. Protons have a positive "charge" and electrons have a negative "charge."

Because of their opposite electrical charges, protons and electrons are attracted to each other. Remember the old saying "opposites attract?" In the case of electricity, it is true. Neutrons have no electrical charge. Pfft. Yes, Souby. Silly useless neutrons. Thank you.

When  there is an equal number of protons and electrons, the atom is balanced, and is probably as happy as a pig in deep slop. By the way, not all atoms have the same number of protons. Nosiree. The number of protons in a particular atom tells you what kind of atom (or "element") it is. If you want to know. Chemists seem to want to know. Hardly anyone else. And you can also forget about "elements." Unless, again, you are a chemist. An American chemist, not a British chemist. Never mind, children. Electricity. That's the thing.

Not all electrons are in the same "orbit" around the nucleus either. Some are closer, like Mercury is to the sun, and some are farther away. Like Uranus, Canuck.
The electrons in close orbit around the nucleus protons are strongly attracted to the protons. What? Yes, Caroline! - because they are closer together! Good girl!

And the electrons in "orbits" farther away from the protons? Anyone? Anyone? NOT so strongly attracted. Good answer, Frostygirl! ::pops Canucklehead again. Just because::

By the way, these electron "orbits" are called "shells." That is what we will call them from now on. Inner shells and outer shells. Never mind Chica. Just keep coloring. Someday you will be an excellent designer, little Chica.
What's that, Souby? "Little" Chica is redundant? Yes. Right you are, little guy. Right you are. Like Rio Grande "river" is redundant. A fine boy. A remarkable boy. ::Scrooge gives him half a crown::

Just remember that the electrons farthest away, the ones in the "outer shells" are not so strongly attracted to the protons in the nucleus. Not always, but sometimes. No, little A. Sometimes. Not always. ::narrows eyes at her menacingly::

Sometimes these outer shell electrons are so weakly attracted to the far away protons that they can be bumped out of their orbits. I mean shells. Stand up Canucklehead. ::bumps into little Canuck hard, knocking him several feet away::

See? When an outer shell electron is bumped, it can go right into another atom next door, and become a part of that atom. And then maybe it bumps another electron in THAT atom, and so forth right on down a whole line of atoms. And that is called a "flow of electrons". Ha! And a flow of electrons is called... what? Little Debbie? YES!! Eee-lec-TRI-ci-tee!!!

Come here, Canucklehead, and we will demonstrate again. Canucklehead. Come. Come. Do as I say young man.

[Next time: some absolutely shocking information about electricity.]


  1. That was elucidating indeed. And though I cannot speak for Janet, I look forward to an electrifying sequel. I think.

    (Waving hand frantically from the back row) But teacher, how come when I click on your EC ad, it takes me not to Candy's blog but back to Clarity 2009? Please explain. This won't be on the test, though, will it?

  2. Hmph. I'm not even sure where to start. So instead I'll finisg=h by saying I love the picture of what I believe is me with the red beard. Good work.

  3. I DO indeed know sense when I see it. So, turn your back for an instant, and what happens? Someone takes your name in vain. I gather that some people have forewarning about sequels. Lucky for some.

  4. Excellent, well done Max. A very good post. (And I speak as someone with half a degree in Physics.)

    And Canucklehead's fake beard is truly excellent.

  5. Um, as someone with a full degree in physics...

    Well, I like you, Max, so I won't comment at all.

  6. What'd ya say? I already forgot. *resumes coloring*

  7. What's with the Little A? Are you belittling me?

  8. Electricity lurks. If you do not turn off the switch, and the plug is not in the socket, electricity can leak and flood your house. If that happens, remember that electricity is heavier than air and will pool in low places, DO NOT enter a basement in a house suspected to be flooded. Electricity. Wear galoshes. Electricity is also mostly invisible.
    Occasionally it will give itself away in a telltale crackle or spark.
    It is like the alligator, or goblin that hid under your bed when you were a child, trying to catch you by the ankle as you sprang toward the light switch (paradoxically relying upon electricity to flood the room with light and force the dreaded demons back onto their shadow-lair).

    I have noticed ladies often emit sparks when undressing in the dark.
    This is no bad thing. It adds to the thrill of touching skin to skin.

    Electricity can melt the tip of a screwdriver in one millisecond of purplish blort.

    Electricity powers my computer. It connects me in infinite and usually trivial ways to all of you out there, about whom, in reality, I know nothing.
    Electricity will in a few minutes, spin up the motor which starts the engine in the vehicle which I will take to collect my elderly mother, and take her to a place where she can try out a little powered chair thing, which might help her stay in touch with the friends around her, electricity for motive power.

  9. I wonder, Max, if you could enlighten me as to how magnets fit into newtonian physics, and explain where the forces come from, and go to, because I am flummoxed.
    It always seemed to me that my physics teacher was quite evasive about magnetic forces when questioned.

  10. @Lidian - Perhaps some sequels. This wasn't exactly well-received by the masses. I have notified Entrecard and they say they are working on it. The problem is wide-spread.

    @Canucklhead - Thank you. It was intended only in fun.

    @Sheila - Sorry. I think you are ready for a promotion to a more advanced class.

    @Catherine - Thank you. That is a fabulous compliment. :)

    @Stephanie B - Thank you for (not?) commenting. I am trying to keep this childlike. I realize it lacks much of the boring theory that might have been inflicted. Glad you understand. I promise to not equate your silence with acceptance. Especially of the way electrons move from one atom to another. :)

    @CH!CA - None of this nonsense would be possible without designers and illustrators. Just so you know I know. :)

    @A.- No. Not trying to beliitle you at all. Just pretending my "class" children were some of my grownup friends. I guess I went overboard.

  11. A neutron walks into a bar and orders a beer.

    "How much do I owe you?" he says.

    "For you," says the bartender, "no charge."

  12. @Soubriquet - Electricity is indeed truly wonderful and useful. (Not meaning to abridge your soliloquy, by any means.) Well put! :)

    @Soubriquet - You'll forgive me if I doubt you took a course in Newtonian Physics in the 20th century. If you did, your flummoxation with regard to electromagnetics would certainly be understandable. But no, here we will not be concerning ourselves with anything prior to the discovery of electricity and field theory. In our childlike manner, we might brush sparingly on a smattering nuclear physics, if the issue forces itself upon our third grade class, but always with particular emphasis on the marvelous magic of electricty: how to make it; how to move it around; how to keep from being incorporated into its various circuits. I do hope you will attend our next session, in case the other children have questions. And no, I'm not going to comment on your neutron joke. It pretty much stands on its own merits. I'm sure we all agree on that. May the force be with you. :)

    @A. - Yes. I had hoped it was. Taking no chances. :)

  13. Her-e at Soubriquet Labs we prefer not to use force, but, rather persuasion and co-operation. Our particles are happier, and display less uncertainty, Schroedinger's cat roams free, always, due to his now explicable fear of confined spaces.
    We expect third grade to be 'neat'.

    "23 skidoo!", as you fellers say.

  14. Holy crap! Best lesson I ever sat through. Actually it is the only lesson I can remember. I was usually too F'd up to remember anything in school. Which explains why I am where I am today. :(

  15. @Soubriquet - It is increasingly apparent that such an elementary class will do you no good, but I hope you will stay on in an effort to keep some semblance of discipline in the class. Yowser.

    @Ettarose - Yes, indeed - the lesson was truly crap. And it is unlikely to get better, although I fully intend to do it one more time before shutting this thing down. :)

  16. "Revolving around the nucleus, almost like planets revolve around the sun"

    I get that part, it's the way I see the universe revolving around me!

    Beyond that, electricity is bad voodoo magic and when things go wrong with it I call in modern day witch doctors also known as electricians.

  17. So did I get sent to the principal's office before the lesson started, or was I playing hooky that day?

    This was highly entertaining and I enjoyed the visual aids as well.

  18. @Debbie - The universe DOES revolve around you. You are the neutron of the vast beyond. My electron is irresistibly attracted to your, ummmm, nucleus. Something like that.

    They stab it with their steely knives but they just can't kill the beast. Voodoo. Yo. :)

    @Janet - I saved you for the second act! :)

  19. So THAT's what Lidian was talking about!!!!! I'll be there promptly and make sure my shoes are tied and my pencils sharpened.

  20. You are so mean to little Canucklehead.

    But it makes me laugh.

    What does that say about me?

  21. @Janet - Yes, when Lidian made her comment there was another small part at the bottom of the post which apologized for not using everybody, and saying they would appear in the next installment. But that addendum was too hokey, and made the post even longer. So I deleted it after Lidian made her comment in order to make the post shorter and also to embarrass Lidian if I could. But she doesn't embarrass that easily. So. Yes, be sure to tie your pencil and wear sharp shoes. :)

    @Angelika - Me mean to Canucklehead? You must be joking! Obviously you never read the Canucklehead Wars posts last year on my other blog Britishspeak. But for those who haven't followed me that long, you should know that Canucklehead (Linc McCardle) has been one the most loyal supporters of me and my blogs, and one could not ask for a better friend in far away places. Just so you all know.




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