The uses of electrical conductors and insulators

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The uses of electrical conductors and insulators
Conductors and insulators work concurrently in a circuit. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Electricity is an important component in the functioning of the modern world. It also has the potential to be dangerous. Electrical conductors and insulators are components of all electrical circuits, performing different functions to ensure the circuit operates effectively and safely.

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Electrical conductors

Electrical conductors are components made of a material that allows the electricity to flow easily through it. The atoms of the material are not densely packed together, meaning the electrons that comprise the electrical current can pass easily among them. Examples of materials used to make electrical conductors are copper, iron and steel.

Electrical insulators

Electrical insulators inhibit the movement of electricity through them. Materials used for insulators include rubber, glass and plastic. The atoms in these materials are densely packed together, meaning the electrons in the electric current cannot pass through them.

Appliances

The most common everyday example of electrical conductors and insulators in use is in electrical appliances. The conductors, the copper wires in the cord, allow the electricity to flow from the socket into the appliance to power it -- meaning that when you turn the kettle or washing machine on, it works. The insulators protect you from this flow of electricity. The plastic sheath around the kettle’s power cord is an example of an insulator.

Wiring

On a slightly larger scale, electrical conductors and insulators are also at work in the general wiring of your house. The conductors -- typically copper wires -- channel the flow of electricity from the generating station into your home, sending it to power points. Insulators protect you when using those power points. The plastic casing around a socket is a protecting insulator.

Grid

Electrical conductors and insulators are also key components in the larger distribution of electricity to homes and business. Pylons have large steel cables slung between them that transport electricity from the generating station to properties. These cables are conductors. Large glass insulators ensure the current does not run down the pylons to the ground.

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