What Is Electric Current Described As A Flow Of?

Electric current is the flow of electric charge. More specifically, it is the rate at which electric charges flow past a point in a circuit. Electric charges that flow through wires and other conductors experience a force that pushes them in a certain direction, resulting in a current of charges. Just like the current of a stream of water, electric current flows from areas of high electric potential to areas of low electric potential.

Electric charge is a fundamental property of matter that causes particles to interact and exert forces on each other. Charges can be positive or negative, and opposite charges attract while similar charges repel. Current consists of the flow of both positive and negative charges, typically electrons in metals. When charges flow, we measure how much electric charge passes a given point over a certain period of time to characterize the current.

Electric Charge

Electric charge is a fundamental property of matter that exists in two types – positive and negative. Atoms consist of subatomic particles called protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons have a positive electric charge, electrons have a negative electric charge, and neutrons are electrically neutral. The charges of protons and electrons are equal in magnitude but opposite in sign. Atoms are electrically neutral overall, because they contain an equal number of protons and electrons.

When atoms gain or lose electrons, they become electrically charged particles called ions. Positively charged ions are formed when atoms lose electrons, and have more protons than electrons. Negatively charged ions are formed when atoms gain electrons, and have more electrons than protons. The flow of these charged particles in matter is what constitutes electric current.

Electric Potential Difference

Electric current flows due to an electric potential difference between two points in a circuit. This potential difference provides the driving force that causes electric charges to move. Just like water flows from high to low potential in a waterfall, electric charges flow from high to low electric potential.

Electric potential difference is measured in volts. It is the amount of work needed per unit charge to move a charge between two points. For example, if 1 volt of potential difference causes 1 coulomb of charge to move, then 1 joule of work was done to move that charge.

The greater the electric potential difference between two points, the stronger the electric field, and the greater the force exerted on the electric charges to make them move. This is why high voltage power lines can deliver current across long distances – the large potential difference creates a strong electric field to push the charges along the wires.

Batteries and power supplies provide electric potential difference in circuits by expending chemical or mechanical energy to separate charges. This creates an excess of electrons at the negative terminal and a shortage at the positive terminal. When the terminals are connected by a conductor, the charges flow to balance out the electric potential difference.

Conductors and Insulators

Conductors are materials that allow electric current to easily flow through them. This is because they have many free electrons that can carry the electric charge through the material. The free electrons in a conductor are not bound to any particular atom and are able to move freely when an electric field is applied. Metals like copper and aluminum are good electrical conductors.

Insulators do not easily allow electric current to flow through them. This is because they do not have many free electrons that can carry electric charge through the material. Insulators have tightly bound electrons that are not free to move to neighboring atoms. Examples of good insulators are rubber, plastic, glass and air. They have very few free electrons.

When an electrical potential difference is applied across a conductor, its free electrons feel a force that causes them to drift through the material. This drift of electrons is what we call electric current. However in insulators, there are no free electrons that can move so electric current cannot flow. This makes conductors good for wiring while insulators are used to prevent shocks and contain current in the wires.

Ohm’s Law

Ohm’s law is one of the fundamental relationships that describes the behavior of electric current. It states that the current flowing through a conductor is directly proportional to the voltage applied across it, for a given resistance. This can be mathematically expressed as:

I = V/R


  • I is the current in amperes (A)
  • V is the voltage measured in volts (V)
  • R is the resistance measured in ohms (Ω)

This simple equation relates the three basic electrical quantities – current, voltage and resistance. It shows that if you increase the voltage across a fixed resistor, the current will proportionally increase. Similarly reducing the resistance, increases the current for a given voltage.

Ohm’s law is a fundamental principle that allows calculating and relating current, voltage and resistance in any electrical circuit. It underlies the operation of most electrical devices we use everyday. A basic understanding of Ohm’s law is essential for anyone working with electrical and electronic systems.

Direct Current vs Alternating Current

Electric current comes in two main forms: direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). The main difference between DC and AC is the direction of flow of the electrons.

In DC, the electrons flow continuously in one direction from the power source through the circuit. DC current maintains a constant voltage that does not change over time. Because of this constant unidirectional flow, DC current is useful for electronics that require a consistent voltage supply like batteries.

In contrast, AC current periodically reverses direction, meaning the flow of electrons switches between forward and backward. The voltage level also rises and falls in a cyclical waveform. AC alternates between positive and negative values at a certain frequency, usually 60 Hz in the U.S. AC current allows electricity to be transmitted over longer distances without power loss, which makes it the most common type for power grids and household outlets.

To summarize, DC flows in one direction only with a constant voltage, while AC alternates directions and voltages. DC is better for electronics needing steady voltage, while AC is better for efficient power transmission. Both DC and AC currents power various electrical devices and systems.

Measuring Current

To measure electric current, a device called an ammeter is used. Ammeters are designed to measure the amount of current flowing through a circuit or component. They are connected in series with the circuit, meaning the entire current flowing in the circuit passes through the ammeter.

Ammeters contain a small resistance, often based around a galvanometer movement. As current flows through the ammeter, it causes a tiny voltage drop across this internal resistance which deflects the ammeter needle against the scale. The greater the current, the larger the deflection. The ammeter scale is calibrated to indicate current values based on the measured deflection.

Common types of ammeters include analogue ammeters with moving coil displays, digital ammeters with numeric readouts, clamp meters which can be clamped around wires without breaking circuits, and shunt ammeters which divert a small fraction of the current through their internal shunt resistance.

Ammeters used for measuring large currents may contain low resistance shunts to divert the current. The voltage drop across the shunt provides a measurable output that indicates the full current value. Care must be taken not to exceed the current rating on ammeters to prevent damage.

ammeters measure electric current in circuits.

Overall, ammeters provide a safe and convenient way to measure current in electric circuits and systems. They are ubiquitous tools in electronics, electricians work, and for general current measurements.

Effects of Electric Current

Electric current has several important effects that are harnessed in many practical applications. These include thermal, magnetic, and chemical effects.

Thermal Effects

As electric current flows through a conductor, it encounters resistance which converts some of the electrical energy into heat. This heating effect is used in electrical appliances like toasters, heaters, and electric kettles. It is also the basis for incandescent light bulbs, which produce light by heating a filament until it glows.

Magnetic Effects

When electric current flows through a conductor, a magnetic field is produced around the conductor. This phenomenon is utilized in electromagnets which are used in everything from doorbells to MRI machines. The interplay between electricity and magnetism is also how electric generators and motors work.

Chemical Effects

Electric current can drive certain chemical reactions and processes. A common example is electroplating, which uses electric current to deposit a thin coating of metal onto the surface of a conductor. Electricity is also used in processes like electrolysis to break down chemical compounds and smelt aluminum.

In summary, the thermal, magnetic, and chemical effects of electric current have enabled the development of a wide variety of practical technologies and devices that we use every day. Understanding these effects is key to utilizing electricity effectively in so many aspects of life.


Electric current has many practical applications in our everyday lives. Here are some examples:

Electronics – Current is used to power and run all types of electronic devices from small gadgets to large appliances. Devices like computers, phones, TVs etc all require electric current to function.

Electromagnets – Passing current through a coil of wire creates a magnetic field which can be used to make electromagnets. These have many uses including lifting heavy objects in cranes, powering electric motors and transformers.

Electroplating – The process of electroplating uses electric current to coat a metal object with a thin layer of a different metal. It is commonly used to change the surface properties of an object or for decorative purposes.

Medical devices – Many medical devices like ECG and EEG machines rely on sensing tiny electric currents in the body to diagnose conditions and monitor health.

Electric heating – Passing current through resistive wires converts electrical energy into heat. This principle is used in space heaters, toasters, hair dryers etc.

Lighting – From incandescent bulbs to LEDs, electric current is used to produce light for illumination.


Electric current is the flow of electric charges. The charges could be electrons in a conductor like copper wire or ions in an electrolyte. Electric current happens when there is an electric potential difference across a conductor. The greater the electric potential difference, the more current will flow. The amount of current also depends on the material’s resistance according to Ohm’s law.

Direct current flows in one direction while alternating current constantly changes direction. Ammeters and galvanometers are instruments used to measure electric current. Effects of electric current include heating, electromagnetic induction, electrolysis, and physiological stimulation. Electric current has many practical applications in electrical devices, electronics, electrochemistry, and more.

In summary, electric current is the directed flow of electric charges. Understanding the concept helps explain how circuits, electronics, and electromagnetism work. Current is an important foundational topic in the study of electricity and electrical engineering.

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