Why Is Copper Wire a Good Conductor?

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Copper wire is found in the guts of almost any electronic device and inside the walls of most homes. Copper wire is the ideal selection for almost every practical electrical application because it is a good conductor.

Definition

  • To understand what is going on in a conductor of electricity, visualize the atomic scale. At that level, the outer electrons of certain materials, primarily metals, contain unbound electrons that are easily moved around with little energy. Scientists call them "free" electrons because only miniscule force is needed to strip them from the atom. When electricity is applied to a metal like copper, free electrons transport the current quickly along the surface with relatively small loss. A metal with such properties is considered a good conductor.

Advantage of Wire

  • The bulk of electrical power flows along the surface of a metal, not through its mass. Because the electrons are bound up in the bulk of a metal, a solid mass of metal actually performs poorly as a conductor. On the metal's surface, however, electrons are unbound and free to move. A conductor that is formed into a wire shape has the maximum possible surface area to enable the easy flow of electrons.

Advantages of Copper

  • Copper is abundant, making it a relatively inexpensive choice compared to other good conductors, such as gold and silver. It is ductile yet relatively strong; manufacturers can easily work it into fine wire that resists breaking. Copper has a higher electrical and thermal conductivity than most metals; it can transport electricity and heat with considerable efficiency and relative safety, especially when compared to alternatives such as aluminum.

Benefits and Reusability

  • When selecting a good conductor, manufacturers are driven by more than just the mechanism of electrical conductivity. Copper wire used as a conductor has practical benefits. It is an inexpensive, safe and reliable material that has proven itself over more than a century of commercial applications, from the first telegraphs to modern supercomputers. Because copper has such a high rate of being recycled, the same metal that was used to blaze the early American frontier may find its way into the computers that ferry future spacecraft to the stars.

References

  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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