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Name: Andrea R.
Status: student
Age: 14
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1/25/2004


Question:
Does hydrogen conduct electricity?


No, not easily. Electrons are strongly bound to the proton in a hydrogen and so there is no charge carrier which can move to produce an electric current.

The binding energy is so high that an enormously strong electric field, like 1 billion volts per cm, is needed to make a spark. Since the voltage between the prongs of an outlet in your house is around 100 volts, you can see that hydrogen is a very poor conductor indeed.

Best, Dick Plano


Hi Andrea-

All the normal hydrogen element we've seen does not conduct electricity by itself. But hydrogen plus an "opposite" element can make water conduct electricity.

Normally, H atoms by themselves only make H2 molecules. Until the H2 molecules are broken up by a chemical reaction with some other element, your H2 molecules make a clear, cool gas, just like air. Air does not conduct electricity. Even when its cold (like liquid air or liquid Nitrogen), or even when it is frozen solid. When these molecules are gas, they are colorless. When the are liquid, they are clear like water. When they are solid, they are clear or white like glass or ice or sand, but not as strong. So they look just like other insulators, and they do not conduct electricity.

The usual reaction Hydrogen does is burning: H2 + O2 -> H2O, making water. Water conducts a tiny little bit. Add ions, and water conducts a lot. Salty water, or water with acid, conducts electricity fairly well.

The best ions for this are ions of Hydrogen. They make acid water. But that's not called H, it is called H+, and they always come with a [something]- ion. You get H+ like this: Burn hydrogen (H2) in chlorine gas instead of air: H2 + Cl2 -> 2 HCl, called "hydrogen chloride". This is a gas which does not conduct. Put the HCl into water: HCL -> [H+] + [Cl-] Now we have Water with Ions in it, acid water, "hydrochloric acid". "Acid" means ions of Hydrogen in water. Acidic water conducts electricity because, (+)-charged H+'s can move around in it. And then it is not just the hydrogen that is conducting, it is the H+ ions and the Cl- ions and the water they are in.

Scientists kind of think that, when H2 is extremely squeezed together, like inside a big planet like Jupiter, the H2 becomes a melted metal made of H atoms, or something like that. That would conduct electricity. But I do not think we can make it happen in the laboratory, yet. It is more difficult than squeezing graphite to make diamonds. And the minute you stopped squeezing, it would go back to H2 molecules. I think we are still guessing how hard you need to squeeze.

too long?

Jim Swenson



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