Electricity and Circuits Flashcards Preview

1[GCSE Physics]1 > Electricity and Circuits > Flashcards

Flashcards in Electricity and Circuits Deck (189):
1

What is an atom?

+A positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons.

+They are neutral

2

Where is all the mass of an atom located?

In the nucleus +The nucleus is tiny [about 10,000 times smaller than the whole atom]

3

Label the structure of the atom

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4

What do the negative electrons do? 

+They whizz around in fixed orbits called energy levels or shells. 

5

What does it mean when atoms are neutral

Number of protons = Number of electrons

6

What does it mean if an atom gains or loses an electron?

  • If an atom gains an electron, it becomes a negative ion
  • If an atom loses an electron, it becomes a positive ion. 

7

What do atoms form when they join together? 

+Molecules

+Eg, molecules of oxygen gas are made up of two oxygen atoms bonded together. Small molecules like this have a typical size of 10-10 m - the same sort of scale as the size of an atom. 

8

Complete the table:

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9

What is current? 

  • The rate of flow of electric charge around the circuit.
  • Current will only flow thrrough an electrical component if there is potential difference across that component, and if the circuit is complete [closed]. 
  • Unit: ampere, A

10

When will the current only flow through an electrical circuit? 

+If there is potential difference across that component, and if the circuit is complete [closed].

Unit: ampere A

11

What is potential difference? 

+The driving force that pushes the charge round

+The energy change per unit of charge between two points

+Unit, volt [V]

12

What is resistance? 

+Anything that slows the flow of electric charge [current] down

+Unit ohms [Ω]

13

What does the current flowing through a component depend on? 

+The potential difference across it and the resistance of the compoent. 

14

What normally happens the higher the potential difference across a given component?

The higher the current will be

15

What normally happens the greater the resistance of a component? 

+The smaller the current that flows [for a given potential difference across the component]

16

What does total charge depend on? 

Current and time

17

What is current caused by in metals? 

+By a flow of electrons

18

What is the formula for charge? 

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19

Name these circuit symbols:

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20

What happens as current flows round a circuit?

+ The charges transfer energy as they struggle against resistance

21

What is potential difference? 

+The energy transferred per coulomb of charge that passes between two points in an electrical unit. 

22

What is the formula for energy transferred? 

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23

What is one volt also known as? 

One joule per coulomb

24

What is potential difference also known as? 

Voltage 

25

What is the formula for potential difference? 

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26

What does resistance increase with? 

Temperature [usually]

27

What happens when an electrical charge flows through a component

  • It has to do work against resistance
  • This causes an electrical transfer of energy [work done = energy transferred] 

28

What are I-V graphs 

+Current - potential difference graphs

+This shows how the current varies as you change the potential difference

29

What happens to the electrical transfer of energy? 

  • Some of this energy is transferred usefully but some of it is dissipated to the thermal energy stores of the componenent and the surroundings.
  • So when a current flows through a resistor, the ressistor heats up

30

Why does a resistor heat up when a current flows through it? 

+Electrons collide with the ions in the lattice that make up the resistor as they flow through it.

+This gives the ions energy, which causes them to vibrate and heat up.

+The more the ions vibrate, the harder it is for electrons to get through the resistor [because there are more collisions]. This means that for a given p.d the current decreases as the resistor heats up. 

+If the resistor gets too hot, no current will be able to flow. [Exception: The resistance of a thermistor decreases with an increase in temperature. 

31

What is the standard test circuit? 

How can this relationship be shown?

+This is an experiement to investigate the relationship between current [I], potential difference [V] and resistance for a range of components [such as a filament bulb or fixed resistor].

+This relationship can easily be shown with an IV graph

32

What does the standard test circuit contain?  

+Ammeter - this measures the current [in amps] flowing through the component. It can be put anywhere in the main circuit - but it must be placed in series with the component [never paralel] 

+Voltmeter - this measures the potential difference across the component. It must be placed in paralel with the component under test

33

What is the diagram of the standard test circuit? 

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34

What is the process of the standard test circuit?

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35

What can you create I-V graphs for? 

+Diodes, Thermistors and LDR's 

+However, resistance [and so potential difference] of these components can depend on other factors besides current. [like light intensity and temperature]

36

How does resistance vary within a thermistor? 

+As the temperature increases, the current through the thermistor increases as the resistance decreases

+Keep the potential difference supply constant, gradually heat the thermistor [by placing thermistor against a beaker of hot water]

+You will find...

37

How does resistance vary within LDR's? 

+As the light level gets brighter, the current through the LDR increases as the resistance decreases.

+Condict experiment in a dim room. Keep P.D constant and slowly adjust the light level near to the LDR [eg. by using a lamp connected to the dimmer switch]

+You should find...

38

How does resistance vary within a diode?  

+Current will only flow through a diode in one direction 

+The diode has a very high resistance in the opposite direction 

39

How does resistance vary within a filament lamp?

+An increasing current increases the temperature of the filament, which makes the resistance increase 

+So their I-V graphs are curved 

40

What is current directly proportional to [if the temperature stays the same]

Potential difference [if the temperature stays the same] 

41

Show how the I-V graph for resistors and wires look like:

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42

Show how the I-V graph for a filament lamp looks like: 

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43

Show how the graph for a diode looks like: 

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44

What do linear components have? 

An I-V graph that is a straight line [eg. a fixed resistor] 

45

What do non-linear components have? 

+A curved I-V graph [eg. a filament lamp or a diode] 

46

What happens when there is an electric current in a resistor? 

+There is an energy transfer which heats the resistor

47

What happens when an electrical current does work against electrical resistance?  

+Electrical energy is dissipated as thermal energy in the surroundings 

48

For linear components, what happens if the line goes through [0,0]

+The resistance of the component equals the inverse of the gradient of the line [or 1/gradient]

+The steeper the graph, the lower the resistance

49

How can you find resistance on any point on any I-V graph?

 +You can find resistance for any point on any I-V graph by...

+Reading the P.D and current at that point and putting them into the equation: 

+V=IR

+So R = V/I

50

What is an LDR? 

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+An LDR [Light Dependant Resistor] is a resistor that is dependant on the intensity of light. 

+In bright light, the resistance falls

+In darkness, the resistance is the highest

51

What does the graph for an LDR look like? 

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52

What are the applications of an LDR? 

+There are many applications including

+Automatic night lights, outdoor lighting and burglar detectors 

53

What happens to the resistance of a thermistor as the temperature increases? 

+The resistance of a thermistor decreases as the temperature increases

54

What is a thermistor? 

+A thermistor is a temperature dependant resistor

+In hot conditions, the resistance drops

+In cool conditions, the resistance go up

55

What are some of the applications of thermistors? 

+Thermistors make useful temperature detectors,

+Eg. car engine temperature sensors and electronic thermostats 

56

What does the graph for a thermistor look like? 

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57

What is a series circuit?

+A circuit where electrical components are connected one after the other in a single loop.

+An electron will pass through every component on its way round the circuit

+If a bulb is broken, the current will not be able to flow round the circuit 

+If one of the bulbs go out, they all go out

58

What does an ammeter measure? 

Current [amps]

59

What does a voltmeter measure 

Potential difference [volts] 

60

What does a diagram of a series circuit look like? 

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61

What happens in a series circuit? 

+The current is the same through each component

+The total potential difference of the power supply is shared between the components

+The total resistance of the circuit is the sum of individual resistors

[As you add resistors, the total resistance of the circuit increases]

62

What are parallel circuits?

+Circuits where electrical components are connected alongside one another forming extra loops

+If a bulb is broken, the current can still flow through other components in the circuit through the other loop. 

+When a bulb goes out, other components can still work

 

63

What happens in a parallel circuit? 

+The total current supplied is split between the components on different loops 

+Potential difference is the same accross each loop 

+[If second resistor is added in parallel], the total resistance of the circuit is reduced as the current can follow multiple paths

+The total current going in to a junction equals the total current leaving [the same current flows through each component] 

64

What does a diagram of a parallel circuit look like?

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65

In series circuits, how do you find the total resistance? 

+The sum of the resistances

66

What happens when you add resistors in series? 

+This increases total resistance

+This is because by adding a resistor in series, the two resistors have to share their total potential difference

+The P.D across each resistor is lower, so the current through each resistor is lower 

+In a series circuit, the current is the same everywhere, so total current is reduced when a resistor is added [meaning total resistance increases]

+The bigger a components resistance, the bigger its share of the total potential difference

67

What happens when you add a resistor in parallel?

+This reduces the total resistance [their total resistance is less than the smallest of the resistors] 

+By adding another loop, the current has more than one direction to go in 

+This increases the total current that can flow around the circuit 

+An increase in current means a decrease in the total resistance of the circuit

68

For a series circuit, as the potential difference increases 

The current through the resistor increases [non-linear relationship for a filament bulb] 

69

For a parallel circuit, as the P.D increases...

So does the current through each bulb [non-linear relationship] 

+The P.D across each bulb is the same as the P.D of the power supply 

70

In parallel, the total current through the circuit...

Is the sum of the current through the two branches [which is larger than the total current in series with one filament bulb] 

+This is because the overall resistance of a parallel circuit is lower, so a lower value of R causes a higher value of I

71

How is energy transfered through a circuit? 

+Energy is transferred when an electrical charge goes through a change in potential difference [as work is done against resistance]

72

Where is energy supplied in a circuit? 

+Energy is supplied to the charge at the power source to 'raise' it through a potential 

+The charge gives up this energy when it 'falls' through any potential drop in components elsewhere in the circuit [eg. resistors]

73

What is the equation for the energy transferred to an electrical component? 

+The larger the current or P.D through a component, the more energy transferred to it 

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74

What are electrical appliances designed to do? 

+Transfer energy to components in the circuit when a current flows

75

How do kettles transfer energy? 

+Kettles transfer energy from the mains a.c supply to the thermal energy store of the heating element inside the kettle. 

76

How is energy transferred in handheld fans?

+Energy is transferred electrically from the battery of a handheld fan to the kinetic energy store of the fan's motor. 

77

Does any appliance transfer energy completely usefully? 

+No appliance transfers all energy completely usefully

+The higher the current, the more energy is transferred to the thermal energy stores of the components [and then the surroundings]  

78

What does heating usually do? 

+This usually increases the resistance of the components

+This reduces its efficiency - less energy is transferred to useful energy stores [because more of it is being transferred to the thermal energy store of the component] 

79

What happens if the temperature gets too high? 

+This can cause components in the circuit to melt - which means the circuit will stop working, or not work properly

80

What is a fuse? 

a safety device consisting of a strip of wire that melts and breaks an electric circuit if the current gets too high [exceeds a safe level]

81

What are the advantages of the heating effect of an electric current? 

+It can be useful when you want to heat something

+Toasters contain a coil of wire with a really high resistance 

+When a current passes through the coil, its temperature increases so much that it glows and gives off infrared radiation. 

+The radiation transfers energy to the bread and cooks it

+Filament bulbs and electric heaters work in a similar way

82

What does the total energy transferred by an appliance depend on? 

+How long the appliance is on for and its power

83

What is the power of an appliance? 

+The power of an appliance is the energy is transfers per second 

+So the more energy it transfers in a given time, the higher its power

84

What is the formula for power? 

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85

What are appliances often given? 

+A power rating - they're labelled with the maximum safe power they can be operated at [usually maximum operating power] 

86

What does the power rating tell you? 

+This tells you the maxium amount of energy transferred between stores per second when the appliance is in use

87

What do microwaves have a range of? 

+They have a range of power ratings

+Eg. A 500W microwave will take longer to cook food than one with a power rating of 750W

+This is because the 500W transfers less energy per second to the thermal energy store of the food, so it takes longer to cook

88

What can help customers choose between models of microwaves? 

+The lower the power rating, the less electricity an appliance uses in a given time so the cheaper it is to run.

+But a higher power doesn't neccesarily mean that it is more efficient. An appliance may be more powerful but might not transfer more energy usefully - meaning it might still only transfer the same amount of energy [or even less] to useful stores

89

What does the power transferred by an appliance depend on? 

+This depends on the potential difference [p.d] across it, and the current flowing through it

90

What does the p.d and current tell you? 

+The p.d tells you how much energy each unit of charge transfers 

+The current tells you how much charge passes per unit time

+So both will affect the rate energy is transferred to an appliance, and at the rate it transferess energy to other stores 

91

What is the eqation for electrical power? 

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92

What is the equation for power if you don't know the potential difference? 

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93

What is mains supply? 

A.C 

94

What is the Battery supply?

D.C 

95

What is a.c?

Alternating current 

96

What is d.c?

Direct current 

 

97

What does the a.c do? 

How are alternating currents produced? 

+In a.c supplies, the movement of the charges is constantly changing direction 

+Alternating currents are produced by alternating voltages [the positive and negative ends of the p.d keep alternating]

98

What is the UK mains supply? 

The UK mains supply [the electricity in your home] is an  a.c supply at at around 230 V

99

What is the frequency of the a.c mains supply

50 cycles per second or 50 Hz [hertz]

100

What supplies d.c [direct current]? 

Cells and batterries supply direct current

101

What happens in direct current? 

What is d.c created by? 

+The movement of the charges is only in one direction

+D.c is created by a direct voltage [a p.d that is only positive or negative, not both]

102

What are most electrical appliances connected to? 

+The mains supply by three core cables

+This means that they have three wires inside them, each with a core of copper and a coloured plastic coating

+The colour of the insulation on each cable shows its purpose

103

Are the colours for each of the three core cables the same? 

+Yes, the colours are always the same for every appliance

+This is so that it's easy to tell the different wires apart

104

What colour is the live wire? 

Brown 

105

What does the live wire do?

Where is the live wire situated?  

+This carries the voltage [potential difference, p.d]. 

+It alternates between a high +ve and -ve voltage of about 230V

+It is situated on the right

106

What colour is the neutral wire? 

Blue 

107

What does the neutral wire do? 

+Where is the earth wire situated? 

+This completes the circuit - electricity [normally] flows in through the live wire and out through the neutral wire

+The neutral wire is always at 0V 

+It is situated on the left

108

What colour is the earth wire 

Green and yellow

109

What does the earth wire do? 

+This wire is for safety and protecting the wiring. 

+It carries the current away if something goes wrong and stops the appliance casing becoming live

+It's also at 0V 

110

What is the p.d between the live wire and the neutral wire? 

+This equals the supply p.d [230V for the mains]

111

What is the p.d between the live wire and the earth wire? 

+This is 230V for a mains-connected appliance

112

What is the p.d between the neutral wire and the earth wire? 

+There is no p.d - they're both at 0V

113

What do plug sockets have? 

+Switches which are connected  in the live wire of the circuit. 

+This is so the circuit can be broken - the appliance becomes isolated and the risk of an electric shock is reduced 

114

What voltage is your body at? 

+Your body [just like the earth] is at 0V. 

115

What happens if you touch a live wire? 

+Body is at 0V

+This means if one touches a live wire, a large potential difference is produced across the body and a current flows through you. 

+This causes an electric shock which could injure you or even kill you

116

What could still happen even if a plug socket or light switch is turned off? [ie. the switch is open]

+There is still a danger of electric shock

+This is because even though a current isn't flowing, there is still a potential difference in the live wire 

+Making contact with the live wire, would mean your body will provide a link between the supply and the earth, so a current would flow through you. 

117

What can any connection between a live or neutral wire be? 

+Highly dangerous 

+If the link creates a low resistance path to earth, a huge current will flow, which could result in a fire

118

What does earthing and fuses prevent? 

Electrical overloads 

119

What can occur because of changes in a circuit? [or a fault]

+Surges [sudden increases] can occur because of changes in a circuit [eg. an appliance suddenly switching off] or because of a fault in an electrical appliance

120

What are surges? 

Sudden increases in current

121

What can current surges lead to? 

+Leads to the circuits and wiring in appliances melting or causing a fire, and faulty appliances can cause deadly electric shocks 

122

What prevents current surges and its effects? 

The earth wire and a fuse are included in electrical appliances to prevent this from happening

123

How does the earth wire and fuses work? 

  1. If a fault develops in which the live wire somehow touches the metal case, then because the case is earthed, a large current flows through the live wire, through the case and out down the earth wire
  2. This surge in current melts the fuse when the amount of current is greater than the fuse rating. Fuses are connected to the live wire, so that breaking the fuse breaks the circuit and cuts off the live supply. 
  3. +This isolates the whole appliance, making it impossible to get an electric shock from the case. It also prevents the risk of fire caused by the heating effect of a large current.

124

How should fuses be rated? 

+Fuses should be rated as near as possible but just higher than the normal operating current.

125

Why does the fuse rating [needed for cables] usually increase with cable thickness? 

+The larger the current, the thicker the cable you need to carry it [to stop the cable getting too hot and melting] 

126

What other types of fuses are there? 

+Household fuses, [eg, they blow when a light bulb fuses] 

+These work in the same way, but protect the wiring in the house, not just an appliance

127

What is a circuit breaker?

+A switch designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by excess current or a short circuit

+They are safer than fuses 

+They can be used in the place of household fuses

128

What does a circuit breaker do? 

+Instead of melting a fuse, a large current instead may 'trip' [turn of] a circuit breaker 

+Circuit breakers turn off quicker than the time taken for a fuse to melt

+They can also be reset, which is easier than replacing a fuse

129

What is the disadvantage of a circuit breaker? 

They are more expensive than fuses 

130

What does all appliances with metal cases usually have?   

+They are usually earthed - to reduce the danger of electric shock

131

What is earthing?

+When the case is attatched to an earth wire

+An earthed conductor can never become live

132

What is double insulation? 

+When an appliance has plastic casing and no metal parts showing 

133

What doesn't double insulation need? 

+An earth wire, just a live and neutral 

134

What are two core cables?

Cables that only carry live and neutral wires

135

What is static electricity? 

+Electricity that builds up on insulating materials and often ends with a spark or shock

+The build up of charge on insulating materials

136

What is build up of static caused by? 

Friction 

137

What happens when certain insulating materials are rubbed together? 

+Negatively charged electrons will be scraped of one, and transferred to the other

138

What happens to the electron when they are on insulating materials? 

+They are not free to move 

+This build up of charge is called static electricity 

139

What happens when insulating materials are electically charged by static electricity?

+When the material becomes electrically charged, there is a positive static charge on the one that has lost electrons and a negative static charge on the one that has gained electrons

+Both charges are equal 

140

Which electrons always move? 

The negative electrons 

141

What happens when you rub a duster with a polythene rod?

+The rod gains electrons and becomes negatively charged

+The cloth becomes positive 

142

What happens when you rub a duster with a Acetate rod? 

+The Acetate rod loses electrons and so becomes positive

+The cloth becomes negative 

143

What do electrically charged objects do? 

They exert a foce on one another

144

What are two things with opposite electric charges? 

+They are attracted to each other 

+These forces get weaker the further they are 

145

What are two things with the same electic charge? 

+They repel each other 

+These forces get weaker the further they are

146

What practical can you do to see the repel and attract forces of static electricity? 

  1. Suspend a rod with a known charge on a piece of string [so it is free to move]
  2. Placing an object with the same charge nearby will repel the rod [the rod will move away from the object]
  3. An oppositely charged object will attract the rod, [causing it to move towards the object] 

147

What can electrically charged objects also attract? 

Uncharged objects 

148

What does rubbing a balloon against your hair or clothes do? 

+The rubbing transfers electrons to the balloon, leaving it with a negative charge

149

What happens if you hold a negatively charged balloon against the wall?

+It will stick - even though the wall isn't charged

150

Why can a negatively charged balloon stick to the wall?

+The charges on the surface of the wall can move a little, 

+The negative charges on the surface of the wall repel the negative charges of the balloon 

+This leaves a positive charge on the surface, which attracts the negatively charged balloon [attraction by induction] 

151

What is attraction by induction 

+Where there is a positive charge on a surface, which attracts a negatively charged object

152

What is another example of attraction by induction? 

+If you run a comb through your hair, electrons will be transferred to the comb, making it negatively charged. 

+It can then be used to pick up little pieces of uuncharged paper

+Holding it near the pieces of paper causes induction in the paper, meaning they jump and stick to the comb

153

What does too much static cause? 

Sparks 

154

What happens as an electric harge builds on an object?    

+The potential difference between the object and the earth [which is at 0V] increases 

155

How is a spark caused? 

+When the potential difference gets large enough, electrons jump across the gap between the charged object and the earth

+This usually happens when the gap is fairly small

156

Where can electrons also jump to? 

+They can jump to any earthed condictor that is nearby

+This is why you can get static shocks from clothes or getting out of a car

+This usually happens when the gap is fairly small

157

158

Where can static electricity be used? 

+In electrostatic sprayers

+Photocopiers

+Industry 

159

Where are electrostatic sprayers usedd? 

+In various industries, to give a fine, even coat of whatever is being sprayed. 

+For example electrostatic paint sprayers

160

What things are painted using electrostatic paint sprayers?

Bikes and cars 

161

How do electrostatic paint sprayers work? 

+The spray gun is charged - which charges up the small drops of paint

+Each paint drop repels all the others [since they've all got the same charge] so you get a very fine, even spray

+The object to be painted is given an opposite charge to the spray - this attracts the fine spray of paint

+This gives an even coat of paint and hardly any is wasted 

+Parts of the object that are not in direct focus of the spray can still recieve paint [there are no paint shadows] 

162

How do insecticide sprayers work? 

+The plants are not given an opposite charge 

+The plants charge by induction as insecticide droplets come near them

163

What are the dangers of static electricity? 

+Refuelling cars 

+Static on airplanes 

+Lightning

164

What are the dangers of static electricity when refuelling cars? 

  1. As fuel flows out of a filler pipe [eg. into an aircraft or tanker], then static can build up.
  2. This can easily lead to a spark - which might cause an explosion in dusty or fumey places [like when filling up a car with fuel at a petrol station]

165

What are the dangers of static electricity on airplanes? 

  1. As planes fly through the air, friction between the air and the plane causes the plane to become charged.
  2. This build up of static charg can interfere with communication equipment.

166

What are the dangers of static electricity in lightning? 

+Raindrops and ice bump together inside storm clouds - leaving the top of the cloud postively charged and the bottom of the cloud negative.

+This creates a huge voltage and a big spark, which can damage homes or start fires when it strikes the ground

167

How can you reduce the dangers of static electricity? 

+By earthing charged objects 

168

How can we stop electrostatic charge building up? 

+Objects can be earthed

169

How can dangerous sparks be prevented? 

+By connecting a charged object to the ground using a conductor [e.g copper wire] 

+This is called earthing 

170

What does earthing provide? 

+An easy route for the static charges to travel into the ground.

+This means no charge can build up to give you a shock or make a spark.

171

Where do the electrons flow if the charge is negative or positive? 

+The electrons flow down the conductor to the ground if the charge is negative 

+The charge flows up the conductor from the ground if the charge is positive

172

What objects must be earthed to prevent sparks? 

+Fuel tankers must be earthed to prevent any spakrs that might cause the fuel to explode

173

What is an electric field? 

+An invisible field that is created around any electrically charged object

+It's the region around a charged object where, if a second charged object was placed inside it, a force would be exerted on both of the charges

174

What happens to the strength of the field the closer an object gets? 

+The closer to the object you get, the stronger the field is

+The further you are from it the weaker it gets 

175

How can you show an electric field around an object 

+Using field lines

+Eg. you can draw the field lines for an isolated [ie. not interacting with anything] point charge

176

Where do electric field lines go from?

+Positive to negative 

+They're always at a right angle to the surface

177

What happens to the field the closer the lines are? 

+The closer the lines are, the stronger the field is 

+The further from a charge you go, the further apart the lines are and so the weaker the field is

178

What does a positive electric field look like? 

+Field lines go outwards 

A image thumb
179

What does a negatve electric field look like? 

+Field lines go inwards 

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180

What do electric fields cause?

Electrostatic forces 

181

What happens when a charged object is placed in an electric field? 

+When a charged object is placed in an electric field, it feels a force

+This force is caused by the electric fields around two charged objects interacting

182

What happens when the field lines between the charged objects point in the same direction? 

+The field lines join up and the objects are attracted to each other

+The objects are oppositely charged 

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183

What happens when the field lines between the charged objects point in opposite directions? 

+The field lines "push againt" each other and the objects repel each other

184

What does a uniform field look like between two oppositely charged parallel plates?

A image thumb
185

What do you need to remember when drawing a uniform field? 

+You need to show at least three field lines, parallel and all the same distance apart

186

What is the same between the two parallel plates? 

+The strength and direction of the field is the same anywhere between the two plates [its only different at the very ends]

187

What happens when an object becomes statically charged? 

+It generates its own electric field

188

What are the cause of the events of sparking? 

+Interactions between the electric field [of a statically charged object] and other objects

+Eg. a comb, after it's run through hair, it's charged and so produces an electric field. - This electric field interacts with the pieces of paper [without touching them] and so they feel a force.

+The force causes them to move towards the comb [and some will even stick to it]

189

How are sparks caused? 

+Sparks are caused when there is a high enough potential difference between a charged object and the earth [or an earthed object].

+A high potential difference causes a strong electric field between the charged object and the earthed object.

+The strong electric field causes electrons in the air particles to be removed [known as ionisation].

+Air is normally an insulator, but when it is ionised it is much more conductive, so a current can flow through it. This is the spark.