Which Materials Conduct Electricity? (2023)

Bring Science Home

An electrifying science project

  • By Science Buddies, Ben Finioon

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Which Materials Conduct Electricity? (2)

Key concepts
Electricity
Conductor
Insulator

Introduction
Electricity powers many of the devices you use every day. Those devices are made up of circuits, ranging from very simple (such as a lamp with a single lightbulb) to very complex (such as in a computer). Try this project to build your own simple circuit and use it to test which common household materials conduct electricity.

Background
You probably hear the word electricity a lot, but what does it actually mean? In everyday use electricity typically refers to electrically charged particles (called electrons) moving through metal wires. The flow of electricity is called current. Metals are generally very good conductors, meaning they let current flow easily. Materials that do not let current flow easily are called insulators. Most nonmetal materials such as plastic, wood and rubber are insulators. You will notice this if you have ever plugged something into a wall outlet. The prongs on the plug and the wire inside the cord are metal but they are surrounded by plastic or rubber insulation so you do not get shocked when you touch the cord!

Electricity requires a complete "loop" for current to flow. This is called a closed circuit. That is why wall outlets have two prongs and batteries have two ends (positive and negative) instead of just one. You connect both of them to a circuit and that creates a complete loop. If the loop is broken at all, it becomes an open circuit, and no current will flow.

In this project you will build your own simple circuit by disassembling a flashlight (with permission, of course). You will use your circuit as a tester to determine whether household materials are conductors or insulators. When you connect the circuit to a conductor, you will create a closed circuit and the flashlight bulb will turn on. If you connect the circuit to an insulator, you will still have an open circuit so the bulb will stay off.

Materials

  • Flashlight (one you can take apart)
  • Batteries for your flashlight
  • Three pieces of wire that can be cut and stripped (See Procedure for more information.)
  • Ruler with metric measurements
  • Electrical tape (and/or rubber bands)
  • Scissors or knife (and an adult's help)
  • Assortment of metal and nonmetal household materials that can be tested in your circuit

Preparation

  • To do this project you will need to salvage three pieces of wire from an old electronic device. You might have a junk drawer full of old cell phone chargers—those will work great. You can also purchase wire at hardware or some craft stores.
  • Cut three pieces of wire, each at least 10 centimeters long.
  • Have an adult use scissors or a sharp knife to shave about one centimeter of insulation off the ends of each wire, exposing the metal inside. (There is also a special tool to do this called wire strippers. You or an adult can use those if they are available.)
  • Disassemble your flashlight. Remove the batteries. If possible, unscrew the "head" (the part that holds the bulb) and remove the on/off switch. Most flashlights can be disassembled easily by hand, but you might need another tool (such as a screwdriver) and/or help from an adult to do this.
  • Caution: Electricity from wall outlets is very dangerous and can be deadly. Never cut into a wire or open an electronic device while it is plugged into a wall outlet.

Procedure

  • Examine the inside of your flashlight and try to trace the circuit. Remember that electricity requires a closed circuit to flow. The circuit in a flashlight usually goes from one end of the battery compartment, via an on/off switch, then through the bulb and back to the other end of the battery compartment. Can you find the circuit?
  • Your first goal is to use two wires to connect the battery compartment directly to the bulb. This might take some tinkering on your part—not all flashlights are the same. Is it difficult to create your own new closed circuit?
  • The battery compartment should have positive (+) and negative (–) ends. Use electrical tape to attach one end of a wire to the metal parts on each end of the battery compartment. Make sure to squeeze the wires on firmly so they make good contact.(Tip: If the batteries just slide into the flashlight body—rather than being held in place by clips or springs—use rubber bands to hold them together end to end when you remove them from the flashlight.)
  • Now search for two metal contacts on the bulb housing and connect the other ends of the wires to those with electrical tape. Tip: Sometimes the entire inside of the flashlight case is metal, and this serves as one of the contacts. Were you able to create a circuit and make the bulb light up?
  • If you made the contacts correctly, this should cause the bulb to light up. If the bulb does not light, don't worry! There are a few things you can check:
  • You might have an LED flashlight. LED stands for light-emitting diode. A LED is a special type of lightbulb that acts like a one-way valve for electricity. It only lights when its positive (+) and negative (–) sides are connected the right way. Try reversing how the two wires are connected to the battery pack and see if it lights up.
  • Another reason you might not be getting light is that your wires might not be making good contact with the metal in the flashlight circuit. Try pinching the contact points with your fingers or use something such as mini clothespins or binder clips to squeeze the connections.
  • You should now have a working circuit. Essentially you have removed the battery and bulb from the flashlight case and re-created the circuit using two wires. You can use this circuit to test the conductivity of household materials by adding a third wire.
  • Disconnect the wire from one end of the battery pack. This creates an open circuit, and your bulb should turn off.
  • Tape one end of your third wire to that end of the battery pack. Your circuit should now have three wires total, two of which have free ends.
  • Touch the two free ends of the wires together. This should create a closed circuit again, and your bulb should turn on.
  • Test whether materials are conductive by touching them with both free wire ends at the same time.
  • What happens if you touch metal objects, such as paper clips or aluminum foil? If the bulb turns on, does that mean the material is a conductor or insulator?
  • What happens if you touch nonmetal objects such as wood, plastic or rubber? Does the bulb turn on or stay off?
  • Extra: Can you find any nonmetal conductive materials in your home?

Observations and results
It may take a bit of work to reverse engineer a flashlight once you have taken it apart. You should be able to get the flashlight to function without its power switch, however, by connecting the battery compartment directly to the bulb using two wires. Adding a third wire allows you to create a "tester". When you touch a metal object with the free wire ends, the bulb should light up just like it usually would. This works because the metal objects are conductors, so they create a closed circuit. When you touch insulating materials such as plastic, rubber and wood, the circuit remains open, so the bulb stays off because no current can flow.

Nonmetal conductive materials can be difficult to find. A graphite pencil core may work for some flashlights. But graphite has a very high resistance compared with metals, so the bulb may appear very dim or not light up at all.

Cleanup
Reassemble your flashlight if you need to use it again or keep your homemade conductivity tester!

More to explore
Which Materials Are the Best Conductors, from Science Buddies
Moving Electrons and Charges, from Physics4Kids
Generate Electricity with a Lemon Battery, from Scientific American
Science Activities for All Ages, from Science Buddies

This activity brought to you in partnership with Science Buddies

Which Materials Conduct Electricity? (3)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

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      Ben Finio is a senior staff scientist at Science Buddies and a lecturer at the Cornell University Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Follow him on Twitter @BenFinio.

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      FAQs

      Which material conducts electricity? ›

      Metals like copper, iron, gold, aluminum, and silver are the best materials for conducting electricity. A material's electrical conductivity is measured through the electrodes in a standardized aqueous solution at a certain temperature.

      Which of the following can conduct electricity answer? ›

      Due to the presence of minerals and ions, blood proves to be a very good conductor of electricity. Wood, plastic and rubber are poor conductors of electricity.

      Which of the following materials conducts electricity best? ›

      Metals are generally good conductors of electricity. Silver being a metal possesses this property. In fact, it is one of the best conductor of electricity among metals. Wood, rubber and plastic are insulators.

      What are 3 types of conductors? ›

      Types of Conductors :
      • AAC : All Aluminium conductors.
      • AAAC : All Aluminium Alloy conductors.
      • ACSR : Aluminium conductors, Steel-Reinforced.
      • ACAR : Aluminium conductor, Alloy-Reinforced.
      Jul 17, 2018

      What is the best example of conductor? ›

      Examples of Conductors

      Copper, Brass, Steel, Gold, and Aluminium are good conductors of electricity. We use them in electric circuits and systems in the form of wires. Mercury is an excellent liquid conductor. Thus, this material finds use in many instruments.

      What are some examples of conduct electricity? ›

      Examples of conductor

      Graphite, the human body, and the earth are good conductors of electricity. Some of the common conductor examples include metals such as: Copper. Gold.

      Which will conduct the most electricity quizlet? ›

      Potassium Chloride (KCl) is the only strong electrolyte among the options, so it will conduct the most electricity.

      Which would conduct electricity best quizlet? ›

      Which would conduct electricity best? Ocean water is saline, it has lots of ions, as opposed to tap water which has some ions, and purified water, which has essentially none. So ocean water would be the best conductor of electricity.

      Which of these is the best conductor of electricity? ›

      Silver is the best conductor of electricity but copper is used instead of silver for making wires.

      Which solution is the best conductor of electricity? ›

      An aqueous solution of HCl is the best conductor of electric current because HCl is a strong acid, and dissociates completely into ions.

      What is the most common material used in electrical conductors? ›

      Copper is still the most popular material used for wires because it is a very good conductor of electrical current and it is fairly inexpensive when compared to gold and silver. Aluminum and most other metals do not conduct electricity quite as good as copper.

      What are 4 examples of good conductors? ›

      What is an Electrical Conductor?
      • Copper.
      • Aluminium.
      • Silver.
      • Gold.
      • Graphite.
      • Platinum.
      • Water.
      • Human Body.

      What are the top 5 electrical conductors? ›

      Copper, silver, aluminum, gold, steel, and brass are common conductors of electricity. The most highly conductive metals are silver, copper, and gold.

      What are 5 conductors at home? ›

      So in a house, you could find many conductors in a kitchen, for example pots and pans, forks, knives, and spoons. The metal coins in your wallet or purse are also conductors. Other metal conductors are jewelry, tools, wires, and pens.

      What are conductors give 5 examples? ›

      Conductors are those substances through which electricity can flow are called conductors. Insulators are those substances through which electricity cannot flow are called insulators. Some common conductors are copper, aluminum, gold, and silver. Some common insulators are glass, plastic, rubber, and wood.

      What are the 2 most common conductors? ›

      Many materials are used to transmit electrical energy, but those most frequently specified for types of conductors are copper, copper-covered steel, high strength copper alloys, and aluminum.

      Is wood is a good conductor of electricity? ›

      Wood is an insulator because it donot conduct electricity.

      What are the top 3 conductors? ›

      All metals conduct electricity to a certain extent, but certain metals are more highly conductive. The most highly conductive metals are silver, copper and gold.

      What are the 5 examples of current electricity? ›

      What is the example of current electricity? Examples of current electricity are starting a car, turning on a light, cooking on an electric stove, watching TV, shaving with an electric razor, playing video games, using a phone, charging a cell phone and more.

      Is a plastic a great conductor of electricity? ›

      Usually plastics are excellent electrical insulators. They do not conduct electricity. However, they can be made to conduct electricity by mixing them with a material that is a good conductor. This material is called a conducting filler.

      Is water a good conductor of electricity? ›

      Well actually, pure water is an excellent insulator and does not conduct electricity.

      Which can conduct electricity fastest? ›

      Silver has the highest electrical conductivity of all metals. In fact, silver defines conductivity - all other metals are compared against it. On a scale of 0 to 100, silver ranks 100, with copper at 97 and gold at 76.

      What are the 4 most conductive metals? ›

      So, with that in mind, let's take a look at four of the most conductive metals in the world and talk a bit about them.
      1. Silver. This one may surprise you, but it's the truth – silver is the most conductive metal on the planet. ...
      2. Copper. ...
      3. Gold. ...
      4. Aluminium.

      Is glass is a good conductor of electricity? ›

      Therefore, due to its high resistivity and lack of free electrons, glass is a poor electrical conductor.

      Which is the best conductor of heat? ›

      Silver is the best heat conductor because it contains the most free electrons in its outer shell, which aids in heat transfer.

      What liquid is the best conductor? ›

      Mercury is the liquid which is good conductor of heat.

      Which liquid is a good conductor? ›

      Examples for good conductors in liquids: Mercury, acid solutions like vinegar or sulphuric acid(H2SO4), base solutions (NaOH), salt solutions (NaCl), etc.

      Which material is the best conductor answer? ›

      The material which is the best conductor is pure Silver metal. Silver metal has a large number of free electrons which acts as the carriers of electricity.

      What materials are considered good conductors because? ›

      Metals are good conductors because they consist of lattice of atoms with free electrons. The free electrons allow a current to flow through. When a negative charge is applied at one end, the electrons are repelled from the negative charge, and move towards the other end.

      What are the 5 good conductor of heat and electricity? ›

      Gold, Silver, Copper, Aluminium, Iron etc are good heat conductors as well as electrical conductors.

      Which metals are good conductors of electricity? ›

      Metals like copper, gold, silver, steel, aluminium and brass and some of the most common and best conductor of electricity.

      What is a good conductor found in a home? ›

      Copper is commonly used as an effective conductor in household appliances and in electrical equipment in general. Because of its low cost, most wires are copper-plated. You will often find electromagnet cores normally wrapped with copper wire.

      What are examples of conductors for kids? ›

      Materials that allow electricity to pass through them easily are called electrical conductors. Examples of these materials include many metals, such as iron, steel, copper, and aluminum.

      Is paper a conductor or insulator? ›

      Paper is an insulator.

      What material conducts electricity the fastest? ›

      Silver: The single most conductive metal, silver conducts heat and electricity efficiently thanks to its unique crystal structure and single valence electron.

      What is best conductor of electricity? ›

      • Pure silver is the finest conductor of electricity.
      • Yet unsurprisingly, it is not one of the metals that are used to carry electricity most frequently.
      • There are a few disadvantages to the widespread usage of pure silver.

      Do metals conduct electricity? ›

      Metals conduct electricity by allowing free electrons to move between the atoms.

      What material produces the most electricity? ›

      What Raw Materials Go Into Producing Electricity?
      • coal, which produces 44.9 % of all power in the U.S. Along with water, coal was used in the first power plants, and it remains the cheapest known raw material used to produce electricity. ...
      • natural gas, which accounts for 23.4% of the country's total power.

      What is the fastest conducting metal? ›

      As you can see, out of the more common metals, copper and aluminum have the highest thermal conductivity while steel and bronze have the lowest.

      Which is the best conductor of electricity and heat? ›

      Silver is the best conductor of heat and electricity.

      What are 4 good conductors? ›

      Most metals are considered to be good conductors of electrical current. Copper is just one of the more popular materials that is used for conductors. Other materials that are sometimes used as conductors are silver, gold, and aluminum.

      What element is a good conductor? ›

      Some of the best metal conductors are Silver (Ag), Copper (Cu) and Gold (Au). The more free electrons present in a metal, the greater its conductivity. Comparatively, silver has better electrical conductivity than copper and gold.

      Is wood a good conductor of electricity? ›

      Metals are generally very good conductors, meaning they let current flow easily. Materials that do not let current flow easily are called insulators. Most nonmetal materials such as plastic, wood and rubber are insulators.

      Does Aluminium foil conduct electricity? ›

      If instead of plastic the wire is covered with aluminium foil, it can be dangerous as the aluminium foil is a conductor and can conduct electricity and lead to shocks.

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