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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Define the drift velocity of charges moving through a metal
  • Define the vector current density
  • Describe the operation of an incandescent lamp

When electrons move through a conducting wire, they do not move at a constant velocity, that is, the electrons do not move in a straight line at a constant speed. Rather, they interact with and collide with atoms and other free electrons in the conductor. Thus, the electrons move in a zig-zag fashion and drift through the wire. We should also note that even though it is convenient to discuss the direction of current, current is a scalar quantity. When discussing the velocity of charges in a current, it is more appropriate to discuss the current density. We will come back to this idea at the end of this section.

Drift velocity

Electrical signals move very rapidly. Telephone conversations carried by currents in wires cover large distances without noticeable delays. Lights come on as soon as a light switch is moved to the ‘on’ position. Most electrical signals carried by currents travel at speeds on the order of 10 8 m/s , a significant fraction of the speed of light. Interestingly, the individual charges that make up the current move much slower on average, typically drifting at speeds on the order of 10 −4 m/s . How do we reconcile these two speeds, and what does it tell us about standard conductors?

The high speed of electrical signals results from the fact that the force between charges acts rapidly at a distance. Thus, when a free charge is forced into a wire, as in [link] , the incoming charge pushes other charges ahead of it due to the repulsive force between like charges. These moving charges push on charges farther down the line. The density of charge in a system cannot easily be increased, so the signal is passed on rapidly. The resulting electrical shock wave moves through the system at nearly the speed of light. To be precise, this fast-moving signal, or shock wave, is a rapidly propagating change in the electrical field.

Picture is a schematic drawing of electrons flowing from left to right through the wire.
When charged particles are forced into this volume of a conductor, an equal number are quickly forced to leave. The repulsion between like charges makes it difficult to increase the number of charges in a volume. Thus, as one charge enters, another leaves almost immediately, carrying the signal rapidly forward.

Good conductors have large numbers of free charges. In metals, the free charges are free electrons. (In fact, good electrical conductors are often good heat conductors too, because large numbers of free electrons can transport thermal energy as well as carry electrical current.) [link] shows how free electrons move through an ordinary conductor. The distance that an individual electron can move between collisions with atoms or other electrons is quite small. The electron paths thus appear nearly random, like the motion of atoms in a gas. But there is an electrical field in the conductor that causes the electrons to drift in the direction shown (opposite to the field, since they are negative). The drift velocity     v d is the average velocity of the free charges. Drift velocity is quite small, since there are so many free charges. If we have an estimate of the density of free electrons in a conductor, we can calculate the drift velocity for a given current. The larger the density, the lower the velocity required for a given current.

Questions & Answers

does your app come with video lessons?
Ahmed Reply
What is vector
Ajibola Reply
Vector is a quantity having a direction as well as magnitude
tell me about charging and discharging of capacitors
Ahemen Reply
a big and a small metal spheres are connected by a wire, which of this has the maximum electric potential on the surface.
Bundi Reply
3 capacitors 2nf,3nf,4nf are connected in parallel... what is the equivalent capacitance...and what is the potential difference across each capacitor if the EMF is 500v
Prince Reply
four effect of heat on substances
Prince Reply
why we can find a electric mirror image only in a infinite conducting....why not in finite conducting plate..?
Rima Reply
because you can't fit the boundary conditions.
what is the dimensions for VISCOUNSITY (U)
what is thermodynamics
Aniket Reply
the study of heat an other form of energy.
heat is internal kinetic energy of a body but it doesnt mean heat is energy contained in a body because heat means transfer of energy due to difference in temperature...and in thermo-dynamics we study cause, effect, application, laws, hypothesis and so on about above mentioned phenomenon in detail.
It is abranch of physical chemistry which deals with the interconversion of all form of energy
what is colamb,s law.?
Muhammad Reply
it is a low studied the force between 2 charges F=q.q`\r.r
what is the formula of del in cylindrical, polar media
Birengeso Reply
prove that the formula for the unknown resistor is Rx=R2 x R3 divided by R3,when Ig=0.
what is flux
Bundi Reply
Total number of field lines crossing the surface area
Basically flux in general is amount of anything...In Electricity and Magnetism it is the total no..of electric field lines or Magnetic field lines passing normally through the suface
what is temperature change
a bottle of soft drink was removed from refrigerator and after some time, it was observed that its temperature has increased by 15 degree Celsius, what is the temperature change in degree Fahrenheit and degree Celsius
process whereby the degree of hotness of a body (or medium) changes
where The letter "Q" is the heat transferred in an exchange in calories, "m" is the mass of the substance being heated in grams, "c" is its specific heat capacity and the static value, and "ΔT" is its change in temperature in degrees Celsius to reflect the change in temperature.
what was the temperature of the soft drink when it was removed ?
15 degree Celsius
15 degree
ok I think is just conversion
15 degree Celsius to Fahrenheit
0 degree Celsius = 32 Fahrenheit
15 degree Celsius = (15×1.8)+32 =59 Fahrenheit
I dont understand
the question said you should convert 15 degree Celsius to Fahrenheit
To convert temperatures in degrees Celsius to Fahrenheit, multiply by 1.8 (or 9/5) and add 32.
what is d final ans for Fahrenheit and Celsius
it said what is temperature change in Fahrenheit and Celsius
the 15 is already in Celsius
So the final answer for Fahrenheit is 59
what is d final ans for Fahrenheit and Celsius
what are the effects of placing a dielectric between the plates of a capacitor
Bundi Reply
increase the capacitance.
besides increasing the capacitance, is there any?
mechanical stiffness and small size
so as to increase the capacitance of a capacitor
also to avoid diffusion of charges between the two plate since they are positive and negative.
why for an ideal gas internal energy is directly proportional to thermodynamics temperature?
Anne Reply
two charged particles are 8.45cm apart. They are moved and the force on each of them is found to have tripled. How far are they now?
Martin Reply
what is flux
Bundi, flux is the number of electric field crossing a surface area
you right
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 2. OpenStax CNX. Oct 06, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12074/1.3
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