So in this article, we will be taking a look at the differences between a conductor and an insulator. But before we do that, we should first know what a conductor and an insulator is, right? Because without knowing what they are in the first place, learning about the differences between them does not make much sense, right?isn’t it So, let us start from there!
But there is one little thing you need to know before that! And that is to know about what an atom is, alright? So if you are still not familiar with what an atom is and what it looks like, take a look at my earlier article:
What Is An Atom? How Small Is It & What Is It Made Of?
So with that out of the way, let us start with what a conductor is.
What Are Electrons?
So when you read about atom, you got to know that it has protons, neutrons & electrons right? It is this electron that will be the focus of this article today!
So what are these electrons in an atom? What do they do? We will first answer these questions, alright?
So an atom has both positively charged particle called protons and negatively charged particle called electrons. But the main thing to know is that the proton is at the center of the atom called the nucleus. While the electrons are revolving around this nucleus.
So in a way, an atom looks something like this:
So as you can see from the above pic, the nucleus (which is in pink) is at the center of an atom. While the electrons (which are in yellow) are revolving around it.
So this is how an atom look like. But how is this related to our talk on conductors and insulators, you ask?
What Is Electricity
So the thing is, it is these revolving electrons that are the reason for flow of electricity in any material. But not just that. In fact, electricity is nothing but the flow of these electrons.
Wait what? How does that work?
So here is what is happening. The electrons in an atom revolve around the nucleus at different orbits. Why? Because each of these orbits can have only a certain number of electrons in them.
So the inner most orbit of an atom can only have a maximum of 2 electrons around it. This is true for any element in the nature. So anything more than that will need to take up the next orbit. And every orbit after the inner most orbit can only take up to 8 electrons in them!
As a result, as the number of orbits increases, the distance between electrons and nucleus also increases. So that makes sense, right? The electrons in the outermost orbits are far away from the nucleus compared to the inner most orbit. So this means that the outer most electrons are less attracted towards the nucleus.
But that is not all. As I said earlier, an orbit can take only up to 8 electrons in them. But if there are less than 8 electrons in an orbit, the electrons in them will try to leave the atom itself!
Woah! But why would it do that?!
Atoms & Molecules
Because an atom is stable only when they have 2 electrons in the inner orbit & 8 in outer orbits. Anything less than that and they become unstable. So at that point in time, the atom will try to stabilize itself by attaching itself to another atom that can provide it with the missing electron. And this is how molecules are formed!
But why are we talking about all this here when we were to look at the difference between a conductor and an insulator? Because they are all connected!
How? Let me explain!
What Are Valence Electrons?
So as I said, the electrons in the outer most orbit are usually unstable. So they are always looking to bond with other atoms. Or move away from their orbit as they are loosely connected to the atom. So these electrons in the outer most orbits have a special name. They are called valence electrons.
The thing about these valence electrons is that they are highly vulnerable. So much so that we will only need to apply a little bit of energy to push them out of their orbit. And when that happens, electrons will release from the atom and start moving to other atoms around it.
But do you know what happens when these electrons start moving around other atoms in a material? Yes, that is when electricity starts flowing in that material! That is exactly what an electric current is. It is the flow of electrons!
So then here is the next question. Do all elements have same number of valence electrons?
The answer is NO! Not all elements have the same number of valence electrons in them. Because some of them have a lot of them while others do not.
So what does this mean? Well, this is the main difference between a conductor and an insulator!
Main Difference Between A Insulator And Conductor
Those elements that have a lot of valence electrons in them need just a little energy to get the electrons to flow. These elements are called the conductors!
While those elements that need a lot of energy to push valence electrons out of their shell are called insulators!
Now you know the main difference between a conductor and an insulator. But is that all there is to it? Definitely no. There are a lot more differences between them than this. But this is the primary difference.
So what are the other differences then? We will list them in the table below:
Other Differences Between A Conductor And Insulator
|Electrons flow easily through them||Electrons does not flow easily through them|
|As temperature increases, their resistance to flow of electrons also increase||Resistance to flow of electrons remain constant|
|It has small band gap. So only a little amount of energy is required to excite an electron||It has a large band gap. So lot of energy required to excite an electron|
|Eg: Copper, Bronze, Gold, Iron||Eg: Paper, Wood, Rubber, Plastic|
So this is it. These are the main differences between a conductor and an insulator. In the future articles, we will discuss more about the electricity including voltage, current and power. But for now, this should give you a good idea about the differences.
So with that, I will end this article here. But if you have any questions about it, do ask me in the comments below. So until next time, take care! 🙂
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