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Electrical Conductors and Insulators

Some materials allow electric current to flow more freely than others. These materials are called conductors. Other materials are resistant to the flow of electric current. These materials are called insulators. Conductors and insulators are both important in the field of electronics.

Electrical Conductors

Electrical conductors allow electric current to flow easily because of the make up of their atoms. In a conductor, the outer electrons of the atom are loosely bound and can freely move through the material when an electric charge is applied.

Conductive Materials

In general, the best electrical conductors are metals. Metals tend to have electrons in the outer layer of their atoms that are freely shared. The most conductive of all the elements is silver. Unfortunately, silver is too rare and expensive to use in most electrical equipment. Today, the most commonly used electrical conductor is copper. Copper is used in electrical wiring and electrical circuits throughout the world.

Conductance and Resistance

Another way to think of conductance is as the opposite of resistance. The resistance of a material is a measurement of how well a material opposes the flow of electric current. Sometimes conductance is represented by the letter "G" where G is the inverse of resistance, R.

G = 1/R

Using Ohm's law we know that resistance is equal to voltage divided by current or R = V/I, therefore

G = I/V


A superconductor is a material that is a perfect conductor. It has an electrical resistance of zero. All of the superconductors that have been discovered by scientists to date require a very cold temperature on the order of minus 234 degrees C in order to become superconductors.

Electrical Insulators

The opposite of a conductor is an insulator. An insulator opposes the flow of electricity. Insulators are important to keep us safe from electricity. The wire that carries electricity to your computer or television is covered with a rubber-like insulator that protects you from getting electrocuted. Good insulators include glass, the air, and paper.


Some materials behave in between a conductor and an insulator. These materials are called semiconductors. Semiconductors are important in electronics such as computers and mobile phones because their conductivity can be controlled allowing for current to flow in just one direction or only under certain circumstances. The most commonly used semiconductor in electronics today is silicon.

Interesting Facts about Electrical Conductors and Insulators

More Electricity Subjects

Circuits and Components
Intro to Electricity
Electric Circuits
Electric Current
Ohm's Law
Resistors, Capacitors, and Inductors
Resistors in Series and Parallel
Conductors and Insulators
Digital Electronics
Other Electricity
Electricity Basics
Electronic Communications
Uses of Electricity
Electricity in Nature
Static Electricity
Electric Motors
Glossary of Electricity Terms

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