Electrical charge and current

There are two types of current: direct and alternating. In a direct current, the flow of electrons is consistently in one direction around the circuit. In an alternating current, the direction of electron flow continually reverses.

Charge

Electrons are negatively charged particles and they transfer energy through wires as electricity.

Charge is a property of a body which experiences a force in an electric field. Charge is measured in coulombs (C).

Since electrons are so small and one electron will not have much of an effect anywhere, it is more useful to refer to packages of electrons. One coulomb of charge is a package equivalent to 6,250,000,000,000,000,000 electrons.

Current

curriculum-key-fact
Electrical current is a flow of electrons.

When current flows, electrical work is done and energy transferred. The amount of charge passing a point in the circuit can be calculated using the equation:

charge = current × time

Q = I \times t

This is when:

  • charge (Q) is measured in coulombs (C)
  • current (I) is measured in amps (A)
  • time (t) is measured in seconds (s)

One amp is the current that flows when one coulomb of charge passes a point in a circuit in one second.

Example

A current of 1.5 amps (A) flows through a simple electrical circuit.

How many coulombs of charge flow a point in 60 seconds?

Q = I \times t

Q = 1.5 \times 60

Q = 90~C

Question

How much charge has moved if a current of 13 A flows for 10 s?

Q = I \times t

Q = 13 \times 10

Q = 130~C

Question

How much current flows when 10 C passes down a wire in 2 s?

Q = I \times t

I = \frac{Q}{t}

I = \frac{10}{2}

I = 5 A

Measuring current

Circuit with a cell, switch, lamp and ammeter connected in series.

Current is measured using an ammeter. To measure the current through a component, the ammeter must be placed in series with that component.