Let’s Get Physics-l: Conductors, Semiconductors and Insulators

(Please note: The Characters used in my examples are property of Marvel comics and I have no claim to their creation. They are being used to help convey a theory. Thank you)

In terms of conductivity, we have 3 types of material: conductors, semiconductors and insulators. They vary in their ability to conduct electricity and this is down to the number of conduction electrons that each have. To help illustrate my point I’m going to use yet another superhero example (Yay!)

Conductors, such as metals, have a very large number of conduction electrons which make them ideal conductors of electricity. Hammer Time! Ultron Mark 1 has just stumbled out of the laboratory at Avengers Tower (Oh no!) and the only Avenger to hand is Thor, God of Thunder. Now, Ultron Mk 1 isn’t very strong so when Mjolnir strikes him dead in the chest, he is sent flying in several pieces. If we take Mjolnir to be electricity and Ultron as the conduction electrons, the weakness of Ultron’s armour make him more vulnerable to Mjolnir’s strike in a similar way that electricity is conducted far better with a greater number of conduction electrons.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Insulators, such as wood, have a very low number of conduction electrons which make them very poor conductors. Hammer Time Take 2! Ultron has had a few weeks to build his strength up and come back far stronger than before as Ultimate Ultron! Thor, again, is the only Avenger to hand and he throws Mjolnir at Ultron in the hopes of  destroying him. It takes a lot longer to take down Ultimate Ultron but he does manage to eventually damage him enough to put him out of action. If we now consider Ultimate Ultron as conduction electrons, his far stronger exterior make taking him out far more of a challenge in a similar way that a low number of conduction electrons seriously limits the conduction of electricity in insulators.

To bridge the gap between Insulators and Conductors, we have semiconductors. Their number of conduction electrons sits between Conductors and Insulators which makes them neither very good or very bad at conducting electricity. For some strange reason, Ultron downgrades to a slightly weaker model (He’s improving the Ultimate version, if you want a reason) and he comes, yet again, to blows with Thor (You’d think at least one other Avenger was around to help Thor but apparently not). As with the previous Ultrons, Thor swings Mjolnir at Ultron and, after a few hits, he takes Ultron down. If we now consider Ultron as conduction electrons, his eventual fall to Mjolnir reflects the average ability of semiconductors to conduct electricity due to their lower conduction electron count than conductors.

Summary

• Conductors – High number of conduction electrons allows for electricity to be conducted very well.
• Semiconductors – Average number of conduction electrons allows for fair conduction of electricity, neither good nor bad.
• Insulators – Low number of conduction electrons results in a poor ability to conduct electricity.

Not going to lie, these are far more enjoyable to write when I can include superhero examples. That concludes this subsection of electricity so now we move on to Potential Difference, EMF and resistance to name but a few topics. As ever, if you have any thoughts, feedback, questions or suggestions please leave them in the comments.