Topic covered

`color{blue}{star}` INTRODUCTION
`color{blue}{star}` ELECTRIC CURRENT


`color{blue} ✍️` Charges in motion constitute an electric current. Such currents occur naturally in many situations.

`color{blue} ✍️` Lightning is one such phenomenon in which charges flow from the clouds to the earth through the atmosphere, sometimes with disastrous results.

`color{blue} ✍️` The flow of charges in lightning is not steady, but in our everyday life we see many devices where charges flow in a steady manner, like water flowing smoothly in a river. A torch and a cell-driven clock are examples of such devices. In the present chapter, we shall study some of the basic laws concerning steady electric currents.


`color{blue} ✍️` Imagine a small area held normal to the direction of flow of charges. Both the positive and the negative charges may flow forward and backward across the area.

`color{blue} ✍️` In a given time interval `t,` let `q_+` be the net amount (i.e., forward minus backward) of positive charge that flows in the forward direction across the area.

`color{blue} ✍️` Similarly, let `q_–` be the net amount of negative charge flowing across the area in the forward direction. The net amount of charge flowing across the area in the forward direction in the time interval t, then, is `q = q_(+) – q_–`. This is proportional to `t` for steady current

`color{blue}{I = q/t}`........(3.1)

and the quotient is defined to be the current across the area in the forward direction. (If it turn out to be a negative number, it implies a current in the backward direction.)

`color{blue} ✍️` Currents are not always steady and hence more generally, we define the current as follows. Let `ΔQ` be the net charge flowing across a cross section of a conductor during the time interval `Δt` [i.e., between times t and `(t + Δt)`].

`color{blue} ✍️` Then, the current at time t across the cross-section of the conductor is defined as the value of the ratio of `ΔQ` to `Δt` in the limit of `Δt` tending to zero,

`I (t) = lim_(Deltat->0) (DeltaQ)/(Deltat)`........(3.2)

`color{blue} ✍️` In SI units, the unit of current is ampere. An ampere is defined through magnetic effects of currents that we will study in the following chapter.

`color{blue} ✍️`An ampere is typically the order of magnitude of currents in domestic appliances.

`color{blue} ✍️` An average lightning carries currents of the order of tens of thousands of amperes and at the other extreme, currents in our nerves are in microamperes.


`color{blue} ✍️` An electric charge will experience a force if an electric field is applied.

`color{blue} ✍️` If it is free to move, it will thus move contributing to a current.

`color{blue} ✍️` In nature, free charged particles do exist like in upper strata of atmosphere called the ionosphere.

`color{blue} ✍️` However, in atoms and molecules, the negatively charged electrons and the positively charged nuclei are bound to each other and are thus not free to move.

`color{blue} ✍️` Bulk matter is made up of many molecules, a gram of water, for example, contains approximately `10^(22)` molecules.

`color{blue} ✍️` These molecules are so closely packed that the electrons are no longer attached to individual nuclei. In some materials, the electrons will still be bound, i.e., they will not accelerate even if an electric field is applied.

`color{blue} ✍️` In other materials, notably metals, some of the electrons are practically free to move within the bulk material. These materials, generally called conductors, develop electric currents in them when an electric field is applied.

`color{blue} ✍️` If we consider solid conductors, then of course the atoms are tightly bound to each other so that the current is carried by the negatively charged electrons.

`color{blue} ✍️` There are, however, other types of conductors like electrolytic solutions where positive and negative charges both can move.

`color{blue} ✍️` In our discussions, we will focus only on solid conductors so that the current is carried by the negatively charged electrons in the background of fixed positive ions.

`color{blue} ✍️` Consider first the case when no electric field is present. The electrons will be moving due to thermal motion during which they collide with the fixed ions. An electron colliding with an ion emerges with the same speed as before the collision.

`color{blue} ✍️` However, the direction of its velocity after the collision is completely random. At a given time, there is no preferential direction for the velocities of the electrons.

`color{blue} ✍️` Thus on the average, the number of electrons travelling in any direction will be equal to the number of electrons travelling in the opposite direction. So, there will be no net electric current.

`color{blue} ✍️` Let us now see what happens to such a piece of conductor if an electric field is applied.

`color{blue} ✍️` To focus our thoughts, imagine the conductor in the shape of a cylinder of radius `R` (Fig. 3.1). Suppose we now take two thin circular discs of a dielectric of the same radius and put positive charge `+Q` distributed over one disc and similarly `–Q` at the other disc.

`color{blue} ✍️` We attach the two discs on the two flat surfaces of the cylinder. An electric field will be created and is directed from the positive towards the negative charge.

`color{blue} ✍️` The electrons will be accelerated due to this field towards `+Q.` They will thus move to neutralise the charges. The electrons, as long as they are moving, will constitute an electric current.

`color{blue} ✍️` Hence in the situation considered, there will be a current for a very short while and no current thereafter. We can also imagine a mechanism where the ends of the cylinder are supplied with fresh charges to make up for any charges neutralised by electrons moving inside the conductor.

`color{blue} ✍️` In that case, there will be a steady electric field in the body of the conductor. This will result in a continuous current rather than a current for a short period of time.

`color{blue} ✍️` Mechanisms, which maintain a steady electric field are cells or batteries that we shall study later in this chapter. In the next sections, we shall study the steady current that results from a steady electric field in conductors.