Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Liquids Conducting Current
Name: Nathan U.
Status: educator
Age: 50s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 8/2/2004


Question:
I am reviewing some materials for the electricity unit in my physics classes. I have come across similar passages in different texts as follows: "A conductor in both the solid state and liquid state can carry a current to complete an electrical circuit. However, a solid conductor involves the movement of electrons through the atomic lattice, whereas a liquid conductor transports ionic charges through the solution." (Northwestern University Materials World Modules, 2002).

I am puzzled by this generalization of liquids. How does liquid mercury or sodium (nuclear reactor design) conduct electricity? I am not aware of the requirement of ions.


Replies:
Nathan U.,

Whenever you have electrons leaving atoms to travel through the medium, you have positive ions left behind. With a solid, electrons (usually one per atom) move through the material and the ions left behind just stay put. Because the material is solid, the atoms cannot move. In a liquid, the atoms can move. Of course, they do not move nearly as fast as or in the same direction as the electrons. Still, they do move.

Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Physics Instructor
Illinois Central College



Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory