Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge. Electricity gives a wide variety of well-known effects, such as lightning, static electricity, electromagnetic induction and the flow of electrical current. In addition, electricity permits the creation and reception of electromagnetic radiation such as radio waves. In electricity, charges produce electromagnetic fields which act on other charges. Electricity occurs because of the following, an electric charge, that is a property of some subatomic particles, which determines their electromagnetic interactions.
Electrically charged matter is influenced by, and produces, electromagnetic fields, electric current which is a movement or flow of electrically charged particles, typically measured in amperes. Electric field an especially simple type of electromagnetic field produced by an electric charge even when it is not moving for example there is no electric current. The electric field produces a force on other charges in its vicinity. Moving charges additionally produce a magnetic field.
Electric potential is the capacity of an electric field to do work on an electric charge, typically measured in volts. Electromagnets are electrical currents generate magnetic fields, and changing magnetic fields generate electrical currents. Electrical phenomena have been studied since antiquity, though advances in the science were not made until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Practical applications for electricity however remained few, and it would not be until the late nineteenth century that engineers were able to put it to industrial and residential use.
The rapid expansion in electrical technology at this time transformed industry and society. Electricity’s extraordinary versatility as a means of providing energy means it can be put to an almost limitless set of applications which include transport, heating, lighting, communications, and computation. Way before any knowledge of electricity existed people were aware of shocks from electric fish. Ancient Egyptian texts dating from 2750 BC referred to these fish as the “Thunderer of the Nile”, and described them as
the “protectors” of all other fish. Electric fish were again reported millennia later by ancient Greek, Roman and Arabic naturalists and physicians. Several ancient writers, such as Pliny the Elder and Scribonius Largus, attested to the numbing effect of electric shocks delivered by catfish and torpedo rays, and knew that such shocks could travel along conducting objects. Patients suffering from ailments such as gout or headache were directed to touch electric fish in the hope that the powerful jolt might cure them.
Possibly the earliest and nearest approach to the discovery of the identity of lightning, and electricity from any other source, is to be attributed to the Arabs, who before the 15th century had the Arabic word for lightning applied to the electric ray. Electricity would remain little more than an intellectual curiosity for millennia until 1600, when the English scientist William Gilbert made a careful study of electricity and magnetism, distinguishing the lodestone effect from static electricity produced by rubbing amber.
He coined the New Latin word electricus (“of amber” or “like amber”, from the Greek word for “amber”) to refer to the property of attracting small objects after being rubbed. This association gave rise to the English words “electric” and “electricity”, which made their first appearance in print in Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica of 1646. Further work was conducted by Otto von Guericke, Robert Boyle, Stephen Gray and C. F. du Fay. In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin conducted extensive research in electricity, selling his possessions to fund his work.
In June 1752 he is reputed to have attached a metal key to the bottom of a dampened kite string and flown the kite in a storm-threatened sky. A succession of sparks jumping from the key to the back of his hand showed that lightning was indeed electrical in nature. He also explained the apparently paradoxical behavior of the Leyden jar as a device for storing large amounts of electrical charge. In 1791, Luigi Galvani published his discovery of bioelectricity, demonstrating that electricity was the medium by which nerve cells passed signals to the muscles.
Alessandro Volta’s battery, or voltaic pile, of 1800, made from alternating layers of zinc and copper, provided scientists with a more reliable source of electrical energy than the electrostatic machines previously used. The recognition of electromagnetism, the unity of electric and magnetic phenomena, is due to Hans Christian Orsted and Andre-Marie Ampere in 1819-1820; Michael Faraday invented the electric motor in 1821, and Georg Ohm mathematically analyzed the electrical circuit in 1827. Electricity and magnetism (and light) were definitively linked by James Clerk Maxwell, in particular in his “On Physical Lines of Force” in 1861 and 1862.
While the early 19th century had seen rapid progress in electrical science, the late 19th century would see the greatest progress in electrical engineering. Through such people as Nikola Tesla, Galileo Ferraris, Oliver Heaviside, Thomas Edison, Otto Blathy, Anyos Jedlik, Sir Charles Parsons, Joseph Swan, George Westinghouse, Ernst Werner von Siemens, Alexander Graham Bell and Lord Kelvin, electricity turned from a scientific curiosity into an essential tool for modern life, becoming a driving force of the Second Industrial Revolution.
References: Bird, John (2007), Electrical and Electronic Principles and Technology (3rd ed. ), Newnes Patterson, Walter C. (1999), Transforming Electricity: The Coming Generation of Change, Earthscan Benjamin, P. (1898). A history of electricity (The intellectual rise in electricity) from antiquity to the days of Benjamin Franklin. New York: J. Wiley & Sons.