Thermisters and Electron Release
Why do thermistors release more electrons when the
temperature is increased? I know it is something to do with covalent bonds.
I am not sure that "releasing more electrons" is the right way to say it, but
it is essentially correct. As the temperature is increased, more electrons
are available to conduct electricity in a thermistor.
Most materials conduct electricity with electrons (or holes, which is sort
of an absence of an electron). So we need to look at electron mobility in
First, metals easily conduct electricity, and the resistance usually
increases with temperature. One can view the metal as having many free
electrons that can move in an electric field. Sort of a "sea" of
electrons. As the temperature goes up, the atoms in the solid vibrate more
and more and interfere with the movement of the conduction of the electrons.
Resistance goes up. Strictly from a quantum mechanical point of view, the
electrons scatter off lattice phonons (basically vibrations) and the higher
the temperature, the more vibrations to interfere.
On the other hand, some materials have no or few electrons that can move
easily in an electric field. These are insulators and pure semiconductors
like silicon. At cryogenic temperature, the electrons basically cannot move.
(But here I put a warning: electrons in solids move terrifically fast
some of them near the speed of light. They never stop moving. But an
electric current is a net or overall motion of electrons, and in insulators
there is no overall movement.)
Insulators and semiconductors are full of electrons, so why do they not move?
You pretty much need to think in quantum mechanical terms like band
structure, which you can read about on the Internet. The bands are not
physical things, but a way of thinking about how the electrons are
distributed in energy.
A semiconductor is full of electrons, but quantum mechanics prevents them
from going anywhere when cold. As heat is applied, electrons are induced to
move from one band to another, and they can move and start to conduct
electricity. A thermistor is a semiconductor, and its resistance goes down
with increasing temperature, as expected.
This thermistor property may or may not have anything to do with covalent
bonds. Roughly speaking, bonds are the way a chemist looks at how atoms are
stuck together in a solid. Band structure is how a physicist looks at
electrons in a solid. Same solid; different ways of looking at it.
If you are going to melt something, or look at how hard it is, then you may
need to look at the strength of the bonds. If you are interested in
electrical resistance, or heat conduction, then you may need to look at the
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Update: June 2012