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Physics > Electric Charges and Fields > Conductors and Insulators
Electric Charges and Fields

Conductors and Insulators

How many of you have experienced a feeling of electric shock while opening the door of your car? Or while coming in contact with a household appliance? Well, wasn’t that a scary experience? But, why does that happen? Also, why don’t we get a similar experience when we contact wooden materials? It is because wood is an insulator while metal is a conductor. When we come in contact with a conductor, there occurs a flow of electrons from one body to another. This is the reason we experience shock. Shock is basically a mini feeling of current passing through the body. Let us learn more about conductors and insulators.

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What are Conductors?

Conductors are the materials or substances which allow electricity to flow through them. They conduct electricity because they allow electrons to flow easily inside them from atom to atom. Also, conductors allow the transmission of heat or light from one source to another.

Metals, humans, earth, and animals are all conductors. This is the reason we get electric shocks! Moreover, the human body is a good conductor. So it provides a resistance-free path for the current to flow from wire to body.

Conductors have free electrons on its surface which allow current to pass through easily. This is the reason why conductors are able to conduct electricity.

Conductors

Examples of Conductors

  • Material such as silver is the best conductor of electricity. But, it is costly and so, we don’t use silver in industries and transmission of electricity.
  • Copper, Brass, Steel, Gold, and Aluminium are good conductors of electricity. We use them in electric circuits and systems in the form of wires.
  • Mercury is an excellent liquid conductor. Thus, this material finds use in many instruments.
  • Gases are not good conductors of electricity because the atoms are quite far away. Thus, they are unable to conduct electrons.

Explore more about Electric Charges and Fields

Applications of Conductors

Conductors are quite useful in many ways. They find use in many real-life applications. For example,

  • Mercury is a common material in thermometer to check the temperature of the body.
  • Aluminium finds its use in making foils to store food. It is also used in the production of fry pans to store heat quickly.
  • Iron is a common material used in vehicle engine manufacturing to conduct heat.
  • The plate of iron is made up of steel to absorb heat briskly.
  • Conductors find their use in car radiators to eradicate heat away from the engine.

Insulators

Insulators are the materials or substances which resist or don’t allow the current to flow through them. In general, they are solid in nature. Also, insulators are finding use in a variety of systems. As they do not allow the flow of heat. The property which makes insulators different from conductors is its resistivity.

Wood, cloth, glass, mica, and quartz are some good examples of insulators. Also, insulators are protectors. They give protection against heat, sound and of course passage of electricity. Furthermore, insulators don’t have any free electrons. It is the main reason why they don’t conduct electricity.

Examples of Insulators

  • Glass is the best insulator as it has the highest resistivity.
  • Plastic is a good insulator and it finds its use in making a number of things.
  • Rubber is a common material used in making tyres, fire-resistant clothes and slippers. This is because it is a very good insulator.

Download Conductors and Insulators Cheat Sheet PDF


electric charges cheat sheet

Applications of Insulators

As insulators resist the flow of electron, they find worldwide applications. Some of the common uses include:

  • Thermal insulators, disallow heat to move from one place to another. Hence, we use them in making thermoplastic bottles. They are also used in fireproofing ceilings and walls.
  • Sound insulators help in controlling noise level, as they are good in absorbance of sound. Thus, we use them in buildings and conference halls to make them noise-free.
  • Electrical insulators hinder the flow of electron or passage of current through them. So, we use them extensively in circuit boards and high-voltage systems. They are also used in coating electric wire and cables.

Difference between Conductors and Insulators

Let us look at the basic difference between conductors and insulators in a nutshell.

Conductors

Insulators

A conductor allows current to flow easily through it. Insulators don’t allow current to flow through it.
Electric charge exists on the surface of conductors Electric charges are absent in insulator.
Conductors don’t store energy when kept in a magnetic field Insulators store energy when kept in a magnetic field
Thermal conductivity ( heat allowance) of a conductor is very high Thermal conductivity of an insulator is very low
The resistance of a conductor is very low The resistance of insulator is very high
Copper, Aluminium, and Mercury are some conductors Wood, paper and ceramic are some insulators
Conductors are used in making electrical equipment. Insulators are used in insulating electrical equipment for safety purpose

Solved Example for You

Question: How can you increase the conductivity of water?

Answer: Water is a good conductor of electricity. However, if you want to increase its conductivity, you can add some salt to it.

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