Where Do Electrons Go When they Flow Out of a Battery?

Inside the battery, electrons are indeed passed from one atom to another like jumping fleas.

But that’s not how electricity flows through a wire or through a complicated electric circuit. The electrons don’t just enter one end of a wire, hop from one atom to the next, and come out the other end.

Let’s say that the battery’s voltage is pushing electrons through a wire from left to right. What really happens is that each electron repels its right-hand neighbor, because they are both negatively charged and similar charges repel each other.

This nudges the neighbor toward the next right-hand neighbor, which nudges its neighbor, and so on.

By the time the wave of nudging gets to the other end of the wire, which is a lot faster than an electron can get there by broken-field running through the jungle of atoms, the effect is exactly the same as if those end-of-the-wire electrons were the original beginning-of-the-wire electrons.

Who can tell one electron from another, anyway? Not even another electron.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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