What Is The Force That Causes Current To Flow?

An electric current is defined as the net movement of electrons or charge carriers in a given direction. It is measured in amperes, and represents the amount of charge (electrons) flowing per second. Electric currents occur when there is an electromotive force applied across a conductive path or material. This causes a flow of electric charges – electrons in metals, and positive or negative ions in solutions and gases.

Current flows when an electric potential difference is applied to a circuit. The electric potential causes an electric field to develop, which exerts a force on the charge carriers and causes them to accelerate. The flow of charges creates the electric current. Current flows easily in conductors, which contain free electrons that can move when under the force of an electric field. Insulators lack free charges and resist the flow of electric current.

Electric current has many applications and uses in our daily lives. It allows electronics and appliances to operate, enables transmission of power from generators to homes and businesses, and is used in a variety of technologies and devices. Our modern society relies heavily on the controlled flow of electric charges.

Electric Potential Difference

Electric potential difference, also known as voltage, refers to the difference in electric potential energy between two points in an electric field. Voltage is measured in volts and can be thought of as the “pressure” that pushes electric current to flow through a conductor.

A simple analogy is to think of voltage like water pressure in a pipe. The greater the water pressure, the stronger the flow through the pipe will be. Similarly, the greater the voltage applied across a conductor, the stronger the resulting electric current will flow.

Voltage is generated by power sources like batteries, generators, or solar cells. The chemical reactions in a battery or the magnetic forces in a generator produce an electromotive force that establishes a potential difference across the terminals. This voltage source then provides the electric field that enables current to flow when the circuit is closed.

The standard unit of measure for voltage is the volt, represented by the symbol V. One volt is defined as the potential difference needed to impart one joule of energy to each coulomb of charge that passes through a circuit element. Voltage can be directly measured using a voltmeter connected across two points in a circuit. Understanding voltage and how to properly measure it is crucial for analyzing and troubleshooting electrical systems.

Electric Field

An electric field is a region surrounding a charged particle or object that exerts force on other charged particles or objects. Electric fields extend outwards from positive charges and inwards towards negative charges. The strength of the electric field depends on the amount of charge – more charge creates a stronger electric field.

Electric fields arise from electric charges. Any charge that is stationary with respect to an observer will produce an electric field that points away from the charge if it is positive, and towards the charge if it is negative. Since like charges repel each other and unlike charges attract, the electric field tends to push charges away or pull them inward depending on their sign. The strength of the electric field is proportional to the amount of charge. Doubling the charge doubles the field strength. Electric fields permeate all of space and tend to drive charged particles to rearrange themselves until the field is canceled out. The motion of charged particles contributes to electrical currents.

Electric fields are created by electric charges, and exert forces on other nearby charges. The electric field contains information about the electric force experienced at any point in space relative to the charges generating the field. Calculating the electric field at various points allows determining the magnitude and direction of the force a hypothetical test charge would experience at those points. Electric fields are vector quantities, having both magnitude and direction. The units of electric field are Newtons/Coulomb (N/C), which represent force per unit charge.

Electromotive Force

Electromotive force (EMF) is the force that pushes charges such as electrons through an electrical circuit. It causes charges to flow continuously through a closed circuit to produce an electric current. EMF is measured in volts, which is equal to one joule of work per coulomb of charge.

EMF is generated by energy sources in a circuit like batteries or generators. These energy sources apply a potential difference across the circuit, creating an electric field that exerts force on the charges and pushes them from the negative to the positive terminal. The higher the EMF, the stronger the force applied and the greater the resulting current.

Without EMF, charges would not flow. Even with a closed circuit, the charges need to be “motivated” to move by an electromotive force. This is why circuits need batteries, generators, or other sources of EMF to produce a sustained current. EMF provides the energy to continuously move the charges against resistance in the circuit.


Electrical resistance is a measure of the degree to which an object opposes the flow of electric current. Resistance occurs when electrons collide with the atoms and molecules of a material while moving through it. These collisions convert some of the electrical energy into heat and slow down the flow of electrons.

Materials with high electrical resistance allow less current to flow and are called insulators. Materials with low resistance allow current to flow more freely and are called conductors. The resistance of a material depends on its properties and dimensions. For example, longer and thinner conductors have higher resistance.

The relationship between voltage, current, and resistance in a circuit is described by Ohm’s law. Ohm’s law states that the current flowing through a conductor is directly proportional to the voltage applied, and inversely proportional to the resistance. Mathematically, it can be expressed as:

V = I x R

Where V is voltage measured in volts, I is current measured in amperes, and R is resistance measured in ohms. Ohm’s law allows us to predict how changing the voltage or resistance will affect the current in a simple circuit. Understanding resistance and Ohm’s law is fundamental to analyzing any electrical circuit.

Conductors and Insulators

Conductors are materials that allow electric current to flow easily. Metals like copper and aluminum are good electrical conductors. In conductors, the valence electrons are able to move freely, allowing electric current to flow through the material.

Insulators do not allow electric current to flow easily. Materials like glass, rubber and plastic are good insulators. In insulators, the valence electrons are not free to move and flow as electric current.

The key difference between conductors and insulators is that conductors have free electrons which can move and carry electric current, whereas insulators do not have free electrons that can flow freely to allow electric current. Conductors are used to transmit electricity, while insulators are used to prevent the unwanted flow of electricity.

Direct Current vs Alternating Current

Direct current (DC) flows in one direction only and has a constant polarity and magnitude. Alternating current (AC) changes direction periodically and varies in magnitude.

DC is produced by sources like batteries, solar cells, and DC power supplies. AC is produced by rotating generators in power plants and is supplied to homes and businesses. Most electronics require DC to operate but AC is better for transmitting electricity over long distances.

DC maintains a constant voltage while AC voltage varies in a sinusoidal wave pattern. Since AC voltage periodically reverses direction, it allows use of transformers to change voltage levels. This gives AC an advantage in high voltage power transmission over long distances.

DC power has the advantage of being able to store energy in batteries and capacitors. It can also be directly used in electronic circuits without needing to be converted from AC. AC must be converted to DC using devices like rectifiers and voltage regulators before supplying power to electronics.

Both AC and DC have distinct advantages and disadvantages. AC is the nearly universal standard for commercial power delivery while most consumer electronics utilize DC internally. Understanding the difference between the two is key to designing and operating electrical systems.

Real World Examples

Current flows through many of the electrical devices we use every day. Here are some examples:

– Cell phones and other electronics rely on the flow of current to charge batteries and power components. The current flows from the wall outlet through the phone charger and into the battery.

– Electric motors in appliances like blenders and washing machines use current flow to generate rotational force. The greater the current, the higher the torque produced by the motor.

– Current passes through the filament in incandescent lightbulbs, heating it up to the point that it glows and produces light. The light dims or brightens depending on the amount of current.

– Heating elements in electric stoves, space heaters, and toasters use the resistance in the metal wiring to produce heat from current. More current flowing through increases the temperature.

– Current flows through miles of power lines from the generating stations to bring electricity into homes and businesses. Step-up and step-down transformers along the way change the voltage and current levels.

– The spark plugs in a gasoline engine rely on high voltage current flow to ignite the fuel/air mixture in the cylinders at the right time.

Applications of Current Flow

Electric current has many important practical applications in modern technology and industry. Here are some examples:

Electronics: Current flow is used to power all electronic devices, from small gadgets like smartphones and laptops to large appliances like TVs and refrigerators. Integrated circuits and processors in these devices depend on the controlled flow of electric current through semiconductor materials.

Power generation and transmission: Most power plants generate electricity using methods that induce current flow, such as combustion, nuclear fission, or renewable sources like solar cells or wind turbines. The generated electricity is then distributed through power grids to homes and businesses.

Electric motors: Current flow through coils in an electric motor produces rotational force that powers everything from small fans to industrial machinery to electric vehicles.

Electromagnets: Controlled current in a coil wire creates a magnetic field which has many uses, like lifting heavy objects in cranes, adhering trains to tracks, and powering solenoids that control valves and switches.

Medical technology: Electric pulses are used for defibrillators, electrotherapy, neural stimulation, and other medical applications to regulate heart rhythms, reduce pain, or assist in diagnostics.

Lighting: Flow of current through filaments or gas in light bulbs and tubes produces illumination for homes, offices, streets and many other uses.

Communications: Radio, television, internet, cell phones and most other communications rely on transmission of electric signals through cables, wires or electromagnetic waves.


In summary, current flow is caused by an electromotive force which generates an electric field inside a conductor. This electric field applies force to the free electrons in the material, causing them to drift and thus producing an electric current. The key factors that determine how much current will flow are the potential difference, the material’s resistance, and whether it is AC or DC.

Understanding what causes current flow is crucial for working with electricity and electrical devices. The motion of electrons allows energy and information to be transferred in circuits. Applying the principles of electromotive force, electric fields, and resistance allows us to control and optimize current flow for useful applications in our everyday lives. Whether it’s powering appliances, transmitting data, or running complex electronics, the flow of electrical current enables the modern conveniences and technologies we rely on.

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