What is the Atom Made of?

Did you ever see the movie “The Incredible Shrinking Man”? If you have, did you ever wonder what would happen to him when he gets so small that he would be the size of an atom? And if so, could he get any smaller?

Maybe we have the answer because atoms are particles that exist in nature that cannot be broken down any further into smaller components. Everything we see around us is made of atoms, from tables and chairs to people and pandas. 

What Makes Up the Atom?

Illustration of the Atom
Atoms consist of three basic particles: protons, electrons, and neutrons. Nucleus. This atom has a neutral charge as it contains the same amount of protons and electrons. Photo: iStock

Comparatively speaking, atoms contain mostly empty space, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they are not important. The components of the atom and what makes up the atom are fundamental to our understanding of how matter is assembled. That includes living organisms, both here on earth and elsewhere. 

Now let’s talk about the components. A typical atom consists of a nucleus in its center. This nucleus contains neutrons and protons (together they’re called nucleons). Protons have a positive charge. Neutrons have neither positive nor negative charges. They are ‘neutral’.

Surrounding the nucleus are electrons, which are bodies outside of the nucleus and orbit around it, the same as our planets orbit their sun. Besides the size difference in this comparison, the only major difference is that the planets orbit the sun because of gravity, and electrons orbit their nucleus because of magnetism.

Note: The above scenario is simplified in order to vision the structure of the atom. The real fact is that electrons do not orbit the nucleus as the planets do. Their actions are more complex than that. See our article on Quantum Theory for a better understanding of how electrons maneuver around the atom’s nucleus.

The Electron

An electron orbits the nucleus of the atom. The are negatively charged particles. The electrons are the only particles outside of the atom’s nucleus.

Neutral Atoms

A neutral atom doesn’t have any charge, so it doesn’t interact with other atoms. You can think of it as a bag of protons, neutrons, and electrons that just float around in space. Most neutral atoms are made up of an equal number of protons, neutrons, and electrons. For example, hydrogen has one proton, one neutron, and one electron. Helium atoms have two protons, two neutrons, and two electrons. This is why we usually refer to these atoms as neutral.

The Proton 

Periodic table
Image by Calua from Pixabay

Protons are mainly found in the nucleus, although a few may be found in the outer electron orbit. The number of protons in an atom is what makes it what it is. For example, the elements in the periodic table have numbers associated with them. The number on the upper right corner defines its atomic number; that is, it tells us the number of protons in that element. Atomic weight is the number of protons and neutrons together.

Neutrons

The neutron’s only job is to protect the proton from becoming too positively charged. It doesn’t matter if the atom has too many or too few neutrons; it’s fine either way. The neutron doesn’t interact with electrons or anything else outside the nucleus, so it’s usually just along for the ride.

The valence electrons (see below) of an atom are the electrons that are available to form chemical bonds with other atoms. In general, the valence electrons are those that can be shared in its atomic orbitals.

Each main group element has a fixed number of valence electrons, which makes it easier to predict how likely an element is to react with another one and whether or not a given element can act as a reducing agent. Combining all of this information, we can deduce the oxidation state (or valence) of each element and predict whether or not they will react with one another based on these findings. Let’s take a closer look at what these valence electrons are and what role they play in chemical reactions.

Ions

Any time an atom loses or gains an electron, it becomes charged. If it loses an electron, it becomes positively charged. because there are more protons in the atom than electrons. If it gains an electron, it becomes negatively charged. 

When atoms gain or lose an electron, they can bond together with other ions to form other elements; thereby creating a new atom or molecule.

Note: Regardless of the number of electrons or protons that are lost or gained, the ‘makeup’ of the atom is associated to the number of protons that are in the atom, as designated in the upper right corner of each element of the periodic table. 

So What are Valence Electrons?

Illustration of an atom's valence electrons
Photo: Pixabay

These are electrons that are in the outermost shell of an atom and if these atoms have less than 8 electrons in this shell, they will look to find other atoms to bond with so that their outer shells can reach 8 electrons.

This is the Octet Rule, which states that atoms with less than 8 electrons in their outer shell will tend to bond with other atoms so that they can share their valence shells and have 8 electrons, hence, the “octet (8)” rule.

From our explanation of ions above, it is these electrons that are participating in the chemical reactions (bonding) with other atoms, since they are the farthest away from the nucleus and thus, the have the least magnetic force attached to it. In other words, can easily get detached or pulled from a nearby atom.

So, it is these electrons that are the ones that cause the sharing of electrons with other atoms.

Valence Proximity

The electrons that are closer to the nucleus are referred to as core electrons since they aren’t as likely to participate in chemical reactions. The core electrons are absolutely essential to the existence of an atom because without them the atom would collapse in on itself. However, they’re not as likely to be involved in chemical reactions with other atoms because they’re so close to the nucleus.

Valence Summary

The valence electrons are the outermost electrons in an atom that are available to form chemical bonds with other atoms. The number of valence electrons for each element is fixed, and we can use the location of these electrons to predict how likely it is for an atom to bond with another. The more stable the core electrons are, the more difficult it will be for an atom to accept its electrons. If you’re studying chemistry and need to understand how chemical reactions work, it’s important to understand what valence electrons are and how they are used during chemical reactions.

All Together Now

The negative charge of the electrons and the positive charge of the protons are what maintain the orbit of the electrons around the nucleus. This is referred to as an electrostatic charge, or electromagnetic force, or to put it another way, it is the attraction of the positive charge from the negative charge of the electrons that causes this orbit to exist.

Now, let’s drill down to more specifics of the atom’s components and how their respective charges make up different types of atoms. 

Conclusion

Atoms are the smallest particles of matter that cannot be broken down into smaller components. Everything we see around us is made of atoms. Atoms are mostly empty spaces, but they’re fundamental to our understanding of how matter works. A typical atom consists of a nucleus with neutrons and protons (together called nucleons) inside it, as well as electrons that orbit the nucleus. The electrons have a negative charge; the nucleons have a positive charge. 

Neutral atoms are made up of an equal number of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Ionic compounds are made up of positively charged ions and negatively charged electrons, and they have a strong attraction to other atoms and molecules. Electrons are negatively charged particles that orbit the nucleus, making them useful tools. Atoms are the building blocks of everything in the universe, and they are fundamental to our understanding of how matter works.

The Hoax of the The Moon Landing Hoax

Illustration of the accusation that the moon landing was a hoax
Cartoon illustration of the 1969 moon landing, with a depiction that is nothing more than a Hollywood stunt. IStock

The CIA was involved in the JFK assassination, the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks, there are space aliens among us, and so many more, including one that is particularly disturbing and which was initiated by conspiracy theorist host talk show Alex Jones who said that the tragedy at Sandy Hook Connecticut never happened.

Fortunately, in this case, Alex Jones got his due and maybe next time, if he still has a job, he will think twice before purporting such preposterous statements.

So much for our shock and awe introduction, but let’s tone it down a bit and concentrate on one particular conspiracy theory.  For this one which they call the moon landing hoax, we are going to take this accusation and rip it apart, one by one. Not because we have to, but by showing how ridiculous these theories are, hopefully, it will have a domino effect on those that continue to fall prey to these preposterous speculations.

“I Am Telling You! The Moon Landing Was a Hoax”

So they say that Neil Armstrong never set foot on the moon and that it was all staged in an unknown location on Earth, with cameras, and props located somewhere in the United States. They go as far as saying that Disney staged it in Hollywood.

Time to Debunk!

The Waving Flag

Astronaut on the Moon with flag
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

It is said that when the US flag was put on the moon, the photographs and videos show that it appears to be moving. The moon has no air or wind, so some say that the landing must be on a Hollywood set and is completely fake.

There are currently six flags on the moon, from each successful moon landing. The flags are made out of nylon and are held up by four interlocking aluminum poles. These poles were designed by many engineers which resulted in a kit named The Lunar Flag Assembly

Different soil and other aspects such as radiation from the sun needed to be researched in order to send up a functioning flag and flagpole. The original flag appears to be moving, because the top horizontal pole that holds up the top of the flag out, was not extended all the way by the astronauts. This is why the flag looks rippled in photos and gives the illusion of movement in the NASA video. The flag only moves when it is acted upon and touched by the astronauts (inertia) or when a rocket blast blows by it. 

Needless to say, if this was on a Hollywood set, it would be inside, so where is the wind? In addition, if this was such an elaborate hoax, does anyone think they would be that stupid to overlook such an obvious ‘fault’?

Two Shadows

In some photographs, there appears to be two shadows from the astronauts or the Lunar Module. This is easily explained. 

Since the Earth is much larger than the moon, it casts a much greater reflection of light from the Sun. In doing so, another shadow appears, which is a direct result of Earth Light (with respect to moonlight, but that light is much dimmer). The angle of the shadows is directly related to the time of day, the same as they would appear here on Earth; hence, two shadows appear.

Moon Dust 

The way the dust flies from the Apollo 16 footage from NASA shows how the rover kicks up the dust. The dust forms a rooster tail, because of the low gravity environment and no atmosphere on the moon.

This tail is a product of the lunar environment. Dust on the Earth cannot fly the way it does on the moon. This was confirmed by a study done by two scientists at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Apollo 16 footage was turned into a mathematical formula that proved that if the dust on Earth was kicked up from a rover it would land very differently. 

Enormous Effort

To discredit them further, one should consider the enormous work that would need to go into this, even if it was just a Hollywood set.  A whole film crew would be required to make this ‘movie’, but this would not just be any movie, it would be a film designed to fool the entire world, including scientists, astronomers, electrical and mechanical engineers to name a few, and if it was run by the government, a certain amount of politicians as well that would probably work its way up the ladder.

This does not include the renting of the studio and all the bureaucracy that would go with it. In all, there would be no less than a few hundred people hired to fake this event. For so much equipment and so many people involved, why has no one come to speak out?

Yes We Were Really There

Besides the hundreds of people who would have been involved in the ‘Hollywood’ planning, the opposite is also true, as 400,000 Nasa employees were hired to accomplish this amazing task some 50 years ago. They even brought back moon rocks!

It is also an insult to the amazing astronauts who have sacrificed their lives for our country, NASA, and the people of the world who live here.

The Apollo 11 crew: Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.
The Apollo 11 crew

There is such indisputable proof that we landed on the moon that it is almost impossible to say it was fake.  

This author had the pleasure of meeting Buzz Aldren to discuss his amazing journey and looking back to 1969 when I was a young boy, I can vividly remember staying up with my father to watch this incredible feat of engineering and determination. It was real to us then and it is real to us now! 

 

EV FAQs and Figures

Note: This article is about fully electric vehicles. Not hybrids. 

Illustration of an EV being charged

Photo iStock, Credit: Golden Sikorka

Electric Vehicle Costs

Sales

How Much Do EVs Cost to Buy?  

Electrical vehicles can run from $30,000 on the low end to over $100,000 on the high end, with Tesla being the major seller with 1,917,450 vehicles sold since it was first introduced. Elon Musk who owns Tesla brought in a revenue of $53.8 billion for the year 2021. Aside from Tesla, other manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon to make electric vehicles such as BMW, Nissan, Chevrolet, Ford, Volkswagen and Kia. 

Charging

How Much Does It Cost to Charge an EV from Your House? 

White Tesla Model 3 Charging at Home
Austin , Texas , uSA – 2-1-2021: Tesla Model 3 charging at home in front of the house on the L2 at home charging that is provided with every Tesla vehicle

According to our calculations, it can cost between $10 – $15 per charge to the recommended 80% when your EV is near zero battery capacity, which equates to 230 miles. That is less than 1/2 the cost of what a conventional gas car would cost to drive the same distance. If your battery has more than zero juice, your electrical cost would be even less to reach the 80% – 230 mile range.

How Much Does It Cost to Charge an EV Outside of Your House?

Electric Vehicle being charged in a garage
Photo by Michael Fousert on Unsplash

The cost to charge your EV depends upon a number of factors, but in general, expect to pay between $20 – $30 for a full charge, which is much better than a conventional gas car expense, since you can add a good 200 – 300 miles back to the battery. Try getting 200 miles for $30 on a conventional car!

Electrical Charging an EV

What is the Difference Between Level 1 and Level 2 Chargers?

There are some major differences. A level 1 charger can be plugged into any 110 volt outlet, but charges at about twice as long as a level 2 charger, which connects to a 220/240 volt outlet. If you recall our article on voltage, it is the amount of current that is ‘pushed’ out. Like a water faucet. The more you move the lever, the faster the water comes out. So a level 1 charger which uses 110 volts, the amount of current  is, on average 15 amps. A level 2 charger can draw up to 60 amps, depending on the size of the breaker in the house.

How Long Does It Take to Charge an EV?

Illustration of EV going to get charged
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

That depends upon the charger you are using. Currently, there are two types available. A Level-1 charger that connects to any 110-volt outlet. This can take over six hours to fully charge an EV’s battery.

Then there is a Level-2 charger. Charging of this type usually takes about three-four hours to reach full charge.

In the near future, Level-3, called high-speed chargers, will cut this charging time in half or more.

Does Fully Charging Mean It Charges Up to 100%?

No, all EV battery manufacturers agree that these batteries should not be charged to 100% because it will cause degradation of the battery in the long run. Charging to 80% is the recommended charging level and is usually set as the default for most EVs.

You can override this setting if you are planning a long trip but it is not recommended to keep it at the 100% charge level continuously.

So when we say we are fully charging our EV, it means that we have charged up to the 80% mark.

What if My Battery Goes to Zero Miles Left and I Am Sill on the Road?

EV dashboard showing zero mileage let
Zero mileage does not necessarily mean your EV will stop in its tracks, but you should seek an EV station ASAP! Photo SS.

That’s why we recommend not to let your EV battery go below 30%, like the scenario we mentioned above, but we do understand that there are circumstances when this can happen. Chances are you will still have some power left to drive another few more miles. The mileage algorithms are not perfect and only give you an estimate of how much charge you have, but these estimates are fairly accurate as far as estimates are concerned,

When you see that warning notice on your dashboard, you should immediately shut down all accessories (radio, airconditioner or heater, phone charging, etc.) so that the least amount of power is being drained from the battery, but you should look for a charging station immediately!

The Weather and the Seasons

Do the Seasons Have an Effect on EV Batteries?

Car driving in winter snow
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Yes, especially in winter. If the temperature goes below 40 F degrees, expect the mileage to diminish faster. Case in point: It was late November. A couple was leaving Manhattan to go to Long Island. Their GPS said it was a 27 mile drive and 45 miles was left on the vehicle, but halfway through their drive, the mileage counter dropped to 10 miles. Fortunately, they found an EV station along the way and was able to charge the car.

This is why we always suggest not to let you EV battery get that low. Once you see it is below 30%, you should charge it.

Can I Charge My EV in the Rain?

Lectron 240V 40 Amp Level 2 Electric Vehicle (EV) Charger on ground in the rain
This Lectron 240V 40 Amp Level 2 (EV) Charger has a rubber cap that is protecting water from getting into the charging port. Photo: SS

If the charger has protection such as a non-conductive shielding at the port section, then you should be ok if the charger is left outside in the rain.

Check with your charging manufacturer to determine if your home charger is rain proof, but as with all electrical devices, it is always safer to keep these chargers away from anything that is wet.

Travel and Long Trips

How Many Miles Can I Get on a Full Charge?

Most EVs in the medium cost range get about 230 miles on an 80% charge. The manufacturers do not recommend charging to 100% as it decreases the integrity of the battery.

Some of the higher ones, such as the Tesla Model S can get up to 394 miles when the batter is at full capacity. On the other hand, a Kia Niro, a great EV with excellent reviews will get about 253 miles on a full charge. And the 2023 Chevy Silverado will have a 200 kWh battery that can take you a good 400 miles before recharging.

Can I Go on Long Rides With My EV?

Car driving on lonely road
Image by Автошкола ТЕХНИКА from Pixabay

You can but it is not advisable at this time; however, if you are really bent on taking long drives with your EV, it is highly recommended that you plan your trip with charging along the way as your main priority. Check the highway’s rest areas to see if they have charging stations, but be aware that if you do have to charge your EV during your trip, you may have to stay a while, possibly a good three to four hours at each station.

As President Biden’s infrastructure bill goes into effect, you will see more and more charging stations appear, especially along the highways, but remember, charging an EV is not like pumping gas into a car. You will be there for a few hours each time you charge your vehicle.

Of course, you don’t have to fully charge your car. If you could just add another 100-150 miles, that would cut down the time spent waiting. 

Either way, plan ahead so that you can find places to go while the car is charging. Some of these locations may have a restaurant where you can have a long dinner or some towns may have charging ports on the street or in garages, or shopping mall parking lots. As you wait you can traverse through the many stores to kill time.

Then there is are the hotels. Call ahead to find out if they have EV portals and if not, where is the closest one.

In the near future, more and more charging stations will be added along the highways and private locations such as housing and hotels. Additionally, Biden’s Build Back Better plan, he has allocated $5 billion to increase the US infrastructure with over 500,000 new EV portals, and that doesn’t include the additions by private enterprises.

Tell Me More About the Mileage Estimates

A rideshare driver was on his way home from his last drop-off in Manhattan. He previously didn’t realize that the drive for this customer was further out than he thought and he saw that he had only 35 miles left on his battery.

Since he lived just outside the city limits in Long Island, he was sure that he would be able to get home before the battery capacity runs out. He was wrong. And this was during the warmer weather.

When the driver was on the highway, only 13 miles from his home, a warning light came on and said he has zero miles left to drive. What was saying 13 miles all of a sudden went to zero, meaning he had no more battery life in his car.

What happened to that missing 13 miles can only be explained by the fact that the mileage algorithms keep refreshing and new estimates materialize. So it is strongly advisable to monitor your mileage with a give or take of 10- 15 miles either way. Thinking this way may help you decide when you should make your next charge.

This is especially true for winter driving as we have stated.

EV battery warning light advising low battery
If a warning like this comes on, shut off all unnecessary power and look for a EV station immediately! Photo SS.

Plan Ahead!

If you are going to purchase an EV, plan out your expenses first against what it would cost for a gas car. Then plan out what you plan to do with the car. Will you be using it for local driving or going to work every day or is your main purpose to go on long trips? At this current time, we would recommend that you purchase your EV for local driving or work. Whatever you choose, enjoy your ride!

What are the Advantages of Owning an Electric Car?

Of course, the main reason for owning an EV is the savings you get by not having to gas up your car, especially at the prices today. Additionally, EVs don’t have a combustion engine, so there are fewer parts to become defective during your ownership. EVs are said to help with the environment as well and they run very quietly.

What are the Disadvantages of Owning an Electric Car?

The initial expense of purchasing one is what keeps many away who would otherwise buy one. Then there is the cost of having a 220-240 volt connection installed into your home circuit box, which can run from $600 to $1000. 

If you live in an apartment, you may run into an additional issue if the building or development you are in does not have an EV portal available, but more and more locations and communities are having EV stations installed such as shopping malls, public garages, and of course, many car dealerships.

Do EVs Need Oil Changes?

No. Cars with gas engines need maintenance. The oil is used to keep the pistons running smoothly in the chamber of the engine need to be changed every six months or 3,000 miles. Since there is no gas engine that runs the car, no oil change is needed.

 

What Components Make Up EV Batteries?

Photo iStock, Credit: Golden Sikorka

E‍V Battery Overview

In our previous article, we discussed the advantages of owning an electric vehicle. Now, let’s delve further into the component of an EV – its battery.

Electric vehicle batteries consist of several subcomponents that work together to store and discharge electricity. These individual sections are also known as cell components or cell materials. The parts combine to form the complete battery and each has its own unique properties and function.

When considering the various types of electric car batteries, it’s important. Knowing how they function can help you make a more informed decision when purchasing a new electric car, hybrid, or extended-range electric vehicle (EREV) battery.

What are the Components of EV Batteries?

Before we review these components, we need to make sure we understand what an electrode is.

An electrode is a conductor which is a negatively charged (anode) or a positively charged (cathode) material. You can read more about electrodes here.

The different elements of an electric car battery include the following:

  • Anode – The anode is the negative electrode of the battery. It’s made from a metallic oxide material, such as nickel oxide or iron oxide. Anodes are highly porous, allowing for the movement of electrons.
  • Cathode – The cathode is the positive electrode of the battery. It’s made from graphite, a porous material with high electrical conductivity.
  • Separator – The separator is a thin, porous material that sits between the anode and the cathode. Its purpose is to keep the electrodes from touching each other. This is important to prevent overheating, which could result in the battery catching fire.
  • Electrolyte – The electrolyte is a liquid that serves as a conductor of an electric charge. The electrolyte helps move electrons from the anode to the cathode.
  • Container – The container or housing holds all of the components of the battery in place. It’s made from a corrosion-resistant material, such as stainless steel.
  • Cooling System – The cooling system ensures that the battery does not overheat. This can happen if the battery is overcharged and the temperature of the battery rises.

Battery Cells

Illustration of a battery cell
Photo: Wikimedia CC

The most important component of the battery is the cell, which is often made from lithium-ion or lead-acid materials. The cell is composed of active materials, electrolytes, and electrodes that are used to store and discharge electricity. The electrode is a conductor that helps to move electrons from one electrode to the other.

The most common electrodes used to make the anode and cathode are lithium and lead. Batteries can be composed of one cell or many cells connected together. Single-cell batteries are the most common type of electric car battery. Multicell batteries are used in larger-scale storage, such as solar systems or large-scale energy storage systems.

Electronic Parts

The electronic parts of an EV battery include the battery management system (BMS), the charge controller, and the voltage regulator. The BMS is basically an electric circuit that’s used to monitor the health of the battery by measuring voltage levels, charging/discharging rates, and temperature.

The BMS can also help to prevent overcharging and over-discharging of the battery. The charge controller is used to charge the battery. It helps to balance the amount of energy used to charge the battery and the amount of energy generated from the grid or solar panel.

The charge controller also measures the amount of current flowing into and out of the battery during charging. The voltage regulator is used to balance the voltage levels of the battery during charging and discharging.

Lead-Acid Batteries

Lead-acid batteries are the oldest type of battery used in electric cars. They are very cheap to produce and are easy to maintain. However, they are not as efficient as other battery types. They also contain toxic materials, such as sulfuric acid.

These types of batteries are typically used in large-scale grid energy storage systems, such as in a commercial or industrial setting. Lead-acid batteries come in both flooded and sealed types, with the flooded type being the most common. Flooded lead-acid batteries are filled with a liquid electrolyte. They are commonly used in electric vehicle systems.

Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium is very popular because of the ease with which it can release its electron, which makes it ideal for the electrons to flow between the anode and cathode.

Lithium-ion batteries are very efficient, have a long lifespan, and are capable of being fully charged in less than one hour. They are less expensive than nickel-metal hydride batteries and are used in a wide range of consumer electronics. Currently, hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and electric vehicles used lithium-ion batteries.

Where Do the Materials that Make Up a lithium-ion Battery Come From?

Generally speaking, there are five minerals that are considered essential for Li-ion batteries:

The locations where these materials are mined can originate in many different parts of the world, with China being the major exporter of graphite, which is the most important mineral that comprises the anode for these batteries

Nickel-Metal Hydride Batteries

Nickel-metal hydride batteries are also used in electric cars in both hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles. They are cheaper than lithium-ion batteries and are easier to recycle. 

Conclusion

There are many different types of electric car batteries, each with its own unique properties and functions. When considering the various types of batteries, it’s important to understand what makes up these different battery types.

Understanding how they function can help you make a more informed decision when purchasing a new electric car battery or an extended-range electric vehicle battery.

When looking for new batteries, make sure to understand their warranties and how they are manufactured to ensure you get the best product possible. 

Quantum Computing in Simple Terms!

Illustration of quantum light rays
Quantum computing. Close up of optical CPU process light signal.  Photo: iStock

The term ‘Quantum Computing’ hasn’t gotten the much-needed traction in the tech world as yet and those that have traversed through this subject might find it a bit confusing, to say the least. But there are experts who strongly believe that quantum computing is not just the future, but also the future of humanity, as we move ahead of the binary computer bit and venture into the world of computing located down at the subatomic level.

If you don’t have a clue what we are talking about, you are not alone. Stay with us through this article where we will discuss quantum computing in great detail—what it is—how it will change the tech world and its practical implications (both for better or worse).

But before we usher in the discussion of this potential life-changing advancement, it is absolutely necessary to discuss the platform on which quantum computing is based – Quantum theory. So let’s delve right into to the weird world of quantum!

What is Quantum?

Illustration of the Atom
Particles of the atom: protons, electrons, and neutrons. Nucleus. Photo: iStock

Also known as quanta, in simple terms, it represents the minimum amount of energy that can be used within any physical interaction.

Using examples of particle interaction within the atom, a quantum of light would be a photon, and a quantum of electricity would be an electron. There can be no activity smaller than when these particles have an interaction.

The Potential Enabler of Quantum Computing 

The industrial revolution of the 20th century was one of the greatest milestones of modern history. From the invention of the automobile to industrial steel, elevators, and aircraft, it gave birth to a plethora of things that now define our civilization and will continue to shape the history of our future. 

Enter the 21st century and we are watching a transition from the tangible to the intangible (virtual) world; notably, computer technology, its hardware, software, and the world wide web.

Among the many incredible things that are ensuing during this technological revolution is the colossal development in physics, specifically quantum theory. We will try to keep the explanation of quantum theory as simple as possible in order to make this an interesting and informative article. 

Modern Physics

It is important to understand that the field of physics is divided into two definite branches: classical and modern. The former branch was actually established during the period of the Renaissance and continued to progress after that. Classical physics is majorly erected on the ideas put forward by Galileo and Newton. The principles are primarily focused on macroscopic (visible to the naked eye) and the solid nature of the world around us.  

Conversely, modern physics is about analyzing matter and energy at microscopic levels. The subject lies heavy on electromagnetism, the wave nature of light and matter, and the theory of duality. It is interesting to note that all these motifs of modern physics come from quantum theory.

While we are at it, it is important to clarify that quantum theory doesn’t just refer to one idea or hypothesis. It is actually a set of a number of principles. We will discuss them in a simple and brief manner and remain focused on the provisions that are relevant to quantum computing. 

    • The work of physicists Max Plank and Albert Einstein in the earliest of the 20th century theorized that energy can exist in discrete units or ‘quanta’. The hypothesis contradicts the principle of classical physics which states that energy can only exist in a continuous wave spectrum.
    • In the following years, Louis de Broglie extended the theory by suggesting that at microscopic (atomic and subatomic) levels, there is not much difference between matter particles and energy and both of them can act as either particles or waves as per the given condition. 
    • Lastly, Heisenberg proposed the theory of uncertainty, which entails that the complementary values of a subatomic particle can’t be simultaneously measured to give accurate values. 

Neil Bohr’s Interpretation of Quantum Theory: The Primal Basis of Quantum Computing

 

Illustration of a quantum computer
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

During the time period, when the stipulations of quantum theory were extensively discussed among top physicists, Neil Bohr came up with an important interpretation of the theory. He suggested that the properties or the reality of any quantum system (an environment governed by wave-particle duality) can’t be determined or specified until they are particularly found out. 

This assertion led to the development of the Principle of Superposition, which in simple words, suggests that any quantum system exists in all its possible states at the same time until one goes on to find out the exact state.

The infamous Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment is an easy way to understand this concept. The experiment entails that a cat enclosed in a box (which is supposed as a quantum system) with poison would be considered both dead and alive simultaneously until the box is opened and the cat is observed.

Use of Superposition to Develop Computer Algorithms 

Now, this is the point where the theory actually demonstrates its potential to be the basis of a new computer algorithm. In order to understand the quantum-based algorithm, it is essential to understand how contemporary/conventional computing systems work. 

Whether it’s a handheld gadget or a supercomputer working in the server room of Google, at the core of it, every computing device works on the binary language. In conventional computing systems, every bit of information can exist in one of either two states: 0 or 1 (hence ‘binary’). 

On the other hand, when we talk about quantum algorithms, they are actually inspired by the idea that any particle-wave system can exist in multiple states at any given time (Principle of Superposition).

This means when data is stored in a quantum system, it can be stored in more than two states. This supposition makes quantum bits (also referred to as ‘Qubits’) more powerful and expensive than conventional computing bits.

Standard Binary Computing Vs. Quantum Computing 

Seamless pattern with abstract binary code, digital matrix background
4 rows of 8 bits = 4 rows of bytes. Photo: iStock

The fact that a quantum bit can exist in multiple states gives quantum computing an uncontested edge over conventional binary computing. With the help of a simple example, we will try to demonstrate how superior quantum computing could be in comparison to its classical counterpart. 

For example, picture a cylindrical rod, and each end of the rod is a bit, which is either a  1 or 0. That’s it! When one side is a 1, then the other side must be a 0. There is no in-between here. 

On the other hand, the quantum bit exists in every possible state simultaneously. This means every point on the surface of the cylindrical rod denotes the quantum bit. 

The above explanation exhibits in a really simple manner that quantum bits can hold an unprecedented amount of information and hence the computing governed by this type of algorithm can exceed or super-exceed the processing of any classical computing machine. 

Apart from storing more information than classical computers, quantum computing can also implement the principle of entanglement.  In simple words, this principle will enable every quantum bit to be processed separately even without getting drifted away from each other. This feature will also enhance the processing capability of a quantum computer manifold. 

Beneficial Uses of Quantum Computing

The supreme processing capabilities of quantum computing make them an ideal machine to carry out many tasks where conventional computers lag behind.

Science and Life Sciences 

The study of complex atomic and molecular structures and reactions is no mean task. A lot of computing capacity is required to simulate such processes.

For instance, the complete simulation of a molecule as simple as hydrogen is not possible with the available conventional computing technology. So, quantum computing can play a significant role in understanding many of the concealed facts of nature and more particularly of life. Many significant chemical, physical and biological research works stalled for years can take off after the development of quantum computers. 

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning 

Artificial Intelligence Illustration AI
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Even though scientists have made significant inroads in the area of machine learning and AI with the existing computing resources, quantum computing can help in making the progress that we have always aspired for i.e. to make a machine as intelligent as human cognition. Machine learning feeds on big data. The processing of humongous databases goes into the development of any system based on machine learning. 

With the fast processing of quantum computing, even the usual AI will become more streamlined. In addition, the unrestrained computing power of quantum devices will revamp the development of artificial intelligence.

Improvement of General Optimization Procedures 

In today’s bustling life, we feel the need for optimization more than ever—whether it’s personal or commercial dealings. An individual trying to find the best commute for his day-to-day destinations or a financial entity trying to come up with different plans for its every unique customer, a good optimization can only be done when more variables are involved. 

With the addition of more variables, the number of permutations and combinations also goes up and the amount of data to be processed increases exponentially. Optimization of a financial plan might need the processing of several petabytes. Implementation of such extensive optimization in everyday activities can only be achieved with the processing powered by quantum computers.

Other Side of the Coin: The Dangers Involved with Quantum Computing 

One should not be surprised by this heading. We have seen it all through the course of history how the advent of any new technology, intended for the benefit of humankind, is followed by its misuse. And there is no exception for quantum computing. Adding insult to injury, the unrestrained processing power that can be harnessed by a quantum computer can make its exploitation more deadly. It’s important to mention here that the researchers working in the domain are well aware of the unwanted repercussions of quantum computing. 

Quantum Computing Puts Data Encryption Practices in a Great Danger 

Digitization of our everyday activities has shifted nearly every valuable piece of information into the digital form of data. From nuclear codes to personal banking information, everything now exists in the form of digitized data. For that matter, data is now considered a precious commodity. 

And as we know every precious commodity is vulnerable to vandalism, breaches, and thefts. So, in order to address this data vulnerability, computer scientists have developed encryption modules that are used to lock down the data in order to give it only authorized access. 

The encryption of data can only be neutralized with the help of a decryption key designed by the developers and stored with them. Any unauthorized party can’t get around the encryption without a technique called brute force cracking. But it is important to mention here that brute force might only work to crack simple passwords and basic encryption consisting of only a few bits. 

Let’s try to understand this with the help of numbers. 

As per the calculations done by the researchers, using a supercomputer, it could take more than a billion, billion years to crack data that is protected by what is called a 128-bit  encryption key.  In order to put things into perspective, our universe is just 13.75 billion years old. So, it is impossible for a standard 128-bit key to get cracked by the brute force algorithm, using the conventional binary coding system which has only two possible states..

But when we replace this two-state bit of computing with a quantum bit of unlimited existing states, the tables surely get turned.

The 128-bit Key that is so formidable against the brute force of classical binary supercomputers will fall flat when quantum computing is used to carry out the brute-force algorithm. No operating quantum computing machine exists as of today, but experts have estimated that a quantum supercomputer will be able to crack 128-bit encryption keys within 100 seconds. Compare that to the billon-billion years it would take a binary computer to crack the code!

Aftermath 

The aftermath of such a scenario won’t be less than any technological dystopia. Data encryption becoming ineffective will expose everything to the shenanigans of criminal elements. To understand just a fraction of this devastation, imagine that every person on the earth linked to the banking system loses access to his/her account. The mere imagination of such a situation can send chills down the spine.

Apart from that, the neutralization of data encryption can lead to cyber warfare between nation-states. Here also, rogue elements will easily be able to capitalize on the situation. A global outbreak of war in a world with the existing eight nuclear powers can end up with a dreadful outcome. All things considered, the manifestation of quantum computing can bring along many irretrievable repercussions. 

Preparation to Protect Against the Nefarious Use of Quantum Computing 

Google and IBM have successfully carried out quantum computing in a controlled environment. So, to think that quantum computers are a distant reality won’t be deemed an insightful judgment. For that matter, businesses should start preparing against the abuse of quantum computing. There is no point in waiting for formal rules and protocols to be issued. Experts working in the domain of digital security and cryptography recommend some measures to protect business data in the future from any exploitation of the quantum era. 

Conclusion 

How technology has progressed in the last few decades is clearly indicative of the fact that quantum computing is the reality of the future. So, the arrival of quantum computers is not the question of ‘if’ – it’s the question of ‘when’.

Quantum computing with all its benefits for the development of life sciences, the financial sector, and AI poses a great threat to the existing encryption system, which is central for the protection of any type of confidential data. The proper approach for any nation and business is to accept this unwanted aspect of quantum mechanics as a technological hazard and start preparing against it with the help of experts. 

With that said, it is also a blessing when used proactively for the benefit of humankind and we look forward to a better lifestyle for each of us when quantum computing becomes a reality.

Units of Power and How They are Related to Electricity

Before we learn about kilowatts and kilowatt-hours, let’s get a jump start (pun intended 😅) on what these terms mean.

The Units of Electrical Power

Note: If you are not a physics enthusiast and want to skip the physics of electrical energy, you can jump to this section.

Let’s travel into our wayback machine and go back to high school physics 101. These terms and measurements are for background purposes only. We will not be using them later on, but understanding these concepts can help you better comprehend how power (energy) is referenced in units of watts (w) and how they are calculated. Let’s do it!

Speed

The rate of time at which an object is moving along a path.
Units: Length, Time
Example: The car traveled 1 mile in 60 seconds or 1 mile/minute.
Further Reading: What is speed in physics?

Velocity

The rate of time at which an object is moving along a path in a particular direction.
Units: Length, Time, Direction. More precisely, length/time (speed) in a particular direction.
Example: The car traveled 1 mile/minute going west.
Further Reading: What is the difference between speed and velocity?

Acceleration

When we speak about acceleration, it is the rate at which the velocity changes. In other words, velocity doesn’t stay constant.
Units: Feet per second per second or feet/second squared.
Example: A plane traveling south accelerates from 550 m/h (mph) to 600 m/h over a time period of 40 seconds. It has a change in velocity from 550 m/h to 600 m/h and the time period that this occurs in 40 seconds.
Further Reading: Speed, velocity, and acceleration.

Newton

Here we add a new component – Force. When we talk about the measurements of Newtons, we are talking about an acceleration (remember, acceleration means just a change in velocity) of an object.

Illustration_on_One_Newton
By Mhermsenwhite – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70624309

One newton is the force needed to accelerate one kilogram of mass at the rate of one meter per second squared in the direction of the applied force. Simply put, this is the amount of push (force) of one kilogram of an object that weighs one kilogram at a changing velocity (acceleration) of one meter per second per second.
Units: 1 kg⋅m/s2
Example: Joe is pushing a box weighing one kg down the road at 1 m/s

Joule

Joules refer to the amount of work done. A joule is equal to the work done by a force of one newton moving one meter, so Joe has pushed the box weighing one kg down the road at 1 m/s squared for a distance of 1 meter. A joule is also referred to as energy.

Say Watt?

The number of Joules that an electrical device (e.g a lightbulb) is burning per second. Joules and watts both refer to work and equate to power, but both are interchangeable.

Here is the connection:

1 Watt = 1 Joule per second (1W = 1 J/s), so a watt is the amount of energy (in Joules) that an electrical device (such as a light) is running per second. So if a device is burning 500 watts for 60 seconds, then a Joule would equate to 500 * 60 = 30,000 J. Moving ahead, if an air conditioner is burning 1000 watts for 1 hour (60 sec * 60 min = 3600 seconds), then that equates to 1000 watts * 3600 seconds = 3,600,000 Joules (of energy that was used for that hour).

A kilowatt is equal to 1000 watts, so 1 kWh represents the amount of energy transfer that occurs over one hour from a power output of 1000 watts (i.e., joules per second). Thus 1 kWh is equal to 3,600,000 joules of energy transfer (work).

What Does This Mean?

It means that the work of one newton is being performed in the form of electrons that are being pushed through the wire per meter. Saying it in a simpler form, one watt is one joule of energy running a device per second.

  Just Tell Me in Plain English What a Watt is!

Transparent Light Bulb
Consider this to be a one-watt light bulb. If it was a two-watt light bulb, it would be about twice as bright. If it was a 500-watt bulb, more power is needed to provide that additional wattage; hence, more power or we can say more current or voltage is needed, and up goes your electric bill! See how it works? Photo by LED Supermarket

Glad you asked. 1 watt is equal to voltage times current: W=EI  (don’t worry, you don’t have to memorize this formula). Also known as power, a watt is a unit of power.  The more the voltage and/or current that flows through the wire, the more power (watts) is used to run the device.

Let’s Talk About Time

Devices run for a period of time, right? So we have to add this value to our watt calculations. That way, we will know how many watts are used for a certain period of time, and as we will see later, this will help us determine what it costs to run electrical devices, or more specifically, what the electric company charges us and why.

Examples: Joe turned on a one-watt lightbulb for 60 seconds, so that is equal to 60 watts.

Now Joe turned on a 250-watt lightbulb for 2 minutes, so that is equal to (250 * 0.333 hours) = 83.25 watts.

(Remember, for you physics guys, 83.25 watts is the same as saying that 4995 joules of power have been generated).

We’ll be going into this in another article, but just to enlighten you, if your electric company charges you 14.34 cents per 1000 watts used per hour (that’s what they generally charge in New York), then, using the example above, you have paid the company 14.34 cents * (per 1000 watts) * 0.25 watts * 0.0333 / hour (2 minutes) = .036 cents per hour.

If Joe ran the 250-watt bulb for 1 hour, then he would be paying 3.6 cents per hour, but if Joe ran a 1000-watt device for 1 hour, he would be paying 14.34 cents.

OK, but if Joe ran the 1000 watt bulb for 10 hours, then he would owe the energy company $143 cents or $1.43.

OK forget about Joe. What if your electric company charges you 14.34 cents per hour for a 2000-watt air conditioner? You would be paying 29 cents per hour, so if you run the air conditioner for 10 hours each day, you would be paying $2.90 every day. That’s $29.00 every 10 days or close to $100 per month.

Say 1000 Watts!

Are you getting tired of hearing of thousands of watts? This author is also, so let’s call 1000 watts – 1 kilowatt. There you go. Kilo means 1000 so 1kw is 1000 watts.

If you run a 1000-watt device for 1 hour, then the designation is 1Kwh (1 kilowatt-hour or you can say a 1-kilowatt device is running for one hour), denoted as kWh. So, 1 kilowatt is equal to 1,000 watts. If a unit consumes 60 watts hourly and runs for 60 hours, then the energy consumption rate will be 60 watts x 60 hours to equal 3,600 watts per hour, which is equal to 3.6 kWh of electricity.

Ok we know, you want to know what it cost to run your electrical devices in your home and you probably want to know about your air conditioner for starters.  Let’s just say that a typical air conditioner runs about 3 kWh per day. To calculate how much that costs you, just call your local energy company to get the correct number. For our area, Nassau County, the cost is 7 cents per kWh. If you want to know more about your air conditioner costs, check it out here.

 

 

Gas Cars Vs. EV Cars Costs Comparisions

White Tesla Model 3 Charging at Home
Austin, Texas, 2-1-2021: Tesla Model 3 charging at home in front of a house on an L2 charger. Photo: iStock

Why Electric?

There are a number of benefits of driving an electric vehicle (EV). One is the cost savings on gas. The other is the environment. We will concentrate on the former now and will talk about the environment in a separate article.

Before we start discussing how EV costs are calculated, make sure you have read our articles on the atom, electric current  and Units of Power and How They are Related to Electricity so that you will be able to keep up with our cost calculations that involve knowledge about watts and kilowatts, but if you haven’t, no worries. You can skip to the bottom to get our estimate of EV electrical costs when charging from the home, or just read the review below. 

Review

Here’s a brief overview for those who didn’t read the articles mentioned above.

    • Electrons are subatomic particles (one of the entities within an atom) that travel through the wire when power is applied (the wire is attached to an electrical socket). This is known as electrical current and is referred to in units of amps. More on this here.
    • Voltage is the force that pushes the electrons through the wireSimilar to turning on the pressure of a water faucet.
    • Current usually flows through a copper wire which is the conductor and the wire is covered by an insulator (rubber packaging around the wire so that the copper is not bear).
    • Resistance is the opposition to the current (electrons) that is flowing in an electrical circuit. Think of it as the friction that brushes along the side of the current.
    • A watt is the energy (power) that runs the electric device. It is a product of how much electrical current is running and how much voltage (push) is occurring. It is determined by multiplying the voltage times the current. The formula is E=IR (E=voltage, I=current, and R=resistance).
    • A kilowatt is 1000 watts (kW).
    • A kilowatt-hour (kWh) equates to 1kw that runs a device for 1 hour.

Example: If you run an air conditioner for one hour and that air conditioner uses 70 kilowatts of electricity per hour, then you have used 70 kilowatts of electrical energy for that hour. If you run the air conditioner for two hours, you would have used up 140 kilowatts of energy.

Most EVs, with the exception of the high-end luxury ones, have batteries that consist of a 60-65kWh capacity. Sparing you the formula, a battery of this size will equate to about 260 miles after a full (100%) charge.

Note: Most EVs are set to charge to 80% only. Constant charging to 100% diminishes the battery’s lifetime. 80% of a 65kWh battery equates to about 230 miles. 

How Does Kilowatts Equate to Electrical Costs?

Electrical Towers
High voltage transmission towers with red glowing wires against blue sky – Energy concept. iStock

Conventional Gas Cars

We will use a 2021, 4-cylinder Nissan Altima as our example.
Gas tank size: 16.2 galsMPG: 31 average. 

If we multiply 31 miles/gals * 16.2 gals, we can determine the total mileage that this car can run on a full tank of gas, which is 502 miles.  

As of this writing, the price for a gallon of gas is $5.00 on average across the United States. So $5.00 * 16.2 gallons (a full tank) equals $81 to fill up.

Electrical Vehicles

Electric Vehicle being charged in a garage
Photo by Michael Fousert on Unsplash

For EVs, we calculate units per mile instead of MPG. For this example, we will use a 2020 Kia Niro EV, which is a fully electric vehicle and contains a 65kWh battery.

As mentioned, the industry standard for charging a 65kWh EV to 80% is about 230 miles.

Note: If you have an EV, never let it go below 30%, as you may run into trouble if you are on the road and can’t find a charging station. 

Let’s review what we know so far:

    • Filling up a gas tank of a 2021 Nissan Altima will take you about 502 miles without having to fill up again.
    • The cost to fill up this car as of this writing is $81.00.
    • To charge a 2020 Kia Niro’s battery to 80%, the car can go about 230 miles without having to recharge.

Cost of Charging an EV

Selective Electric Utility Plans Overview

Most electric utility companies provide more than one plan that you can select for your household. Besides the default plan which provides a standard price for electric consumption throughout the day and night, there is a plan that can allow you to select lower rates at different times of the day.

This plan, called Time of Use (TOU) is available at PSEGLI and many other utility companies nationwide. Refer to our brochure as to exactly how this works.

Portion of electrical bill for a household in Nassau County, NY
Portion of an electrical bill for a household in Nassau County, NY. Photo: SS

Take a look at the electric bill above from PSEG of Long Island (PSEGLI) above, which powers Nassau County and where the offices of Howard Fensterman are located.

Electrical power companies charge per kWh and we did some preliminary calculations starting with the delivery chargers in the bill, and that doesn’t include the actual electrical costs after that.

Note: It can take up to four hours to charge an EV using a level 2 charger.

Local Averages Using Electric Utility Calculations

Transparent Light Bulb
Photo by LED Supermarket, Pexels

We called PSEGLI directly to find out the average cost of electrical consumption for a typical home in Nassau County. Keeping it simple, an average home uses about $.33 per kWh (this includes delivery and service charges).

According to one source, 7.2 kWh is used each hour to charge the battery and if it take approximately 4 hours to charge, the total kWh is 28.8 kWh.

28.8 kWh x $.33 = $9.5.

Rounded off, it costs about $10.00 to charge a 65kWh battery, which equates to 230 miles, but if you’d like to be a little more cautious if you think that might be too low (since there are so many variables involved that might not meet your particular driving habits or lifestyle, we can say the approximate cost for charging a 65kWh batter from a 220/240 volt level 2 charger is $15.00. How’s that?

Proportion 

We will now compare filling a gas tank of a conventional car that equates to the same mileage (230 miles).

Here are the steps: 

    • Divide the total mileage to charge the battery to 80% by the total mileage to fill a gas tank to get the percentage between the two: 

230 mi / 502 mi = 45% 

    • Multiply this percentage by the total cost to gas up a car: 

To get the cost for a conventional car to go 230 miles, we multiply the cost to fill up the gas tank ($81.00) by 45% to match the 230 miles, and that cost would be 0.45 *$85 = $38.7. 

Using an average of today’s gas prices ($5.00 as of today), it would cost a gas car $38.7 to go 230 miles of highway driving and an EV car would cost $15 to go the same distance (230 miles) in Nassau County, New York.

That’s a savings of $28.7 for every 230 miles you drive for a typical EV in Nassau County, NY for a gas price of $5.00 per gallon.

Note: As of October, 2022, the price of gas fell to $3.5 / gallon, so proportioning this price, we get the cost to fill a gas tank to go 230 miles is – (3.5 x 16.2) x 0.45 = $25.5.

That still a savings of $15.5 for every 230 the gas car drives.

Gas hose on a money background

Conclusion

If you are looking to save money on gas, EV cars are the way to go. Yes, these vehicles are more expensive than conventional gas cars, but at $5.00+ a gallon, you will be pleasantly surprised how much your savings can accumulate.

Finally, we leave you with this. Below is a copy of the estimated charges that accrued for the month of July 2022, from a 1,100-square-foot home that has an EV in its garage in Nassau County, NY. The family charges the car to its 80% capacity about three – four times per month. Notice that the cost in the Electronics category is only 10% of the total usage in the house. Something to think about!

Copy of estimated charges from PSEGLI for a home in Nassau County
Photo: SS

 

 

What is Voltage and Electrical Current? (A Brief Guide)

Electrical Towers
High voltage transmission towers with red glowing wires against blue sky – Energy concept. IStock.

Electrical current is the measure of electrical flow. It’s measured in amperes, or amps for short. The current refers to the number of electrons that pass by a point in an electrical conductor in one second, and it’s usually given in units as milliamps (mA) or microamps (μA). This article explains what electrical current is and how it works. Keep reading to learn more about this topic!

How Does Electrical Current Work?

Electrical current travels through a wire (conductor) to reach a device (eg. light bulb) which causes the device to enable. This traveling of electrons through the wire to the device is called a circuit. It is the pathway for an electrical current to flow from the source to the load. 

Wires showing copper cables
Copper cables are surrounded by rubber insulation. The copper wire is the pathway from the source to the load.  iStock

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are three basic parts to a circuit:

  • The “source,” or “sourcing device,” is where the electrons come from. This can be a battery, a generator, or the flow of electricity from a wall outlet. 
  • The “load,” or “dumping device,” is where the electrons go after completing the circuit. This could be a light bulb, an appliance, or some other device. 
  • The “pathway,” or “wiring,” is the middle part that brings the electrons from the sourcing device to the dumping device. The wiring is almost always made of copper, iron, or in electronic devices, a semiconductor. The current can only flow when the circuit is complete. When the circuit is broken, the current stops.

What Is Electrical Conductivity?

Electrical conductivity is the ability of a material to allow an electrical current to flow through it. The term conductivity is used to describe the extent to which a material will allow the flow of an electrical current. If a material has high conductivity, such as copper, it means that it is very good for allowing electrons to flow rather freely through the wire, while low conductivity, such as rubber will inhibit the electron flow to a greater extent, known as resistance.

The harder it is for the electrons to flow, the more resistance the material has. That’s why rubber is used to insulate the copper wire in almost all manufacturing that will transmit electric current. Rubber has a high resistance rating. 

Wood and glass are two types of materials that have a very low conductivity rating. Have you ever used wood to connect to an electrical circuit or battery? On the other end, copper is one of the most conductive materials around and that is why you see so many wires and/or cables that have copper wiring.

Besides the type of material that is used, electrical conductivity can be affected by a number of factors. For example, temperature, and the presence of contaminants like dust and water.

What is Voltage?

Turn on your water faucet about a quarter of the way and place a cup under it. Notice how fast (or slow) the water is running to fill the cup. How long did it take?

Now turn the faucet to make the water run faster. When you do this, the water fills up the cup sooner. 

This is your voltage (actually an equivalent of voltage). The faster the water comes out, the more the force or pressure of water will be used. In electricity, this means that the more the pressure, the faster the electric current will come out to power an electrical device. The bulb will light up quicker, which you won’t notice, since it happens so quickly, but that is what will happen.

Ohm’s Law

A law that states the relationship between voltage, current, and resistance in a conductor (or insulator). It states that voltage is equal to current times resistance or E=IR. So the voltage equates to the amount of current that flows through the wire but includes the amount of resistance the current is subjected to. 

Types of Electrical Current

There are two basic types of electrical current: Direct Current (DC) and Alternating Current (AC). A direct current is a constant flow of electrons that always flows in the same direction. It can flow in one direction or it can flow in both directions. It is provided by batteries, solar cells, and hydroelectric plants. Electrical current can be changed from DC to AC by using a device called a transformer. Transformers are used to change the voltage of the electricity.

Summary

Electrical current is the flow of electrons through a conductor. A complete circuit is where electrons flow from the source to the load through a pathway or wiring. Electrical current works when a circuit is complete. A circuit is a pathway for an electrical current to flow from the source to the load. There are 3 basic parts in a circuit. The source is where the electrons come from. The load is where the electrons go after completing the circuit. The pathway is the middle part that brings the electrons from the sourcing device to the dumping device.

There are two basic types of electrical current: Direct Current (DC) and Alternating Current (AC). A direct current is a constant flow of electrons that always flows in the same direction. AC current can change from DC to AC by using a device called a transformer.

What is a Computer Bit and How Does it Work?

Man working on multi computers
Photo by CDC-Pexels

What Makes Computers Tick?

When you think of computing, you may have images of whizzing processors or geeks typing on screens. But did you ever wonder how all these devices actually work? If so, keep reading. As technology continues to advance and computer literacy becomes more important than ever, we are going to break down what makes computers tick!

Electricity is the Common Demonator

Set of realistic vector hands pressing light switches
You turn on a switch and you are allowing current to flow. That is represented by a ‘1’ in  computer language called Binary Code. You press Off and you cut out the electric current from flowing and the is represented by a ‘0’. Photo iStock.

You flick a switch and a light bulb turns on. You flick the switch again and the blub turns off. If I were to tell you that computers run on this simple principle, would you believe me?   Well, believe you should because that’s all there is. Simply refer to a bulb that is lit as the number ‘1’ and when it is off, refer to it as a ‘0’. In other words, the values ‘0’ and ‘1’ are based on whether electricity, more popularly referred to as current, is flowing is represented by ‘1’ or current is not flowing, represented by ‘0’.

So I Should Call Them Ones and Zeros?

Not exactly. These two values are known as bits. So whatever you are doing on the computer; such as reading this article, you are actually reading a long list of bits that the computer sees and then translates into words. 

Of course, it is a bit (pun intended) more detailed than that. Not complex though, just a bit more to absorb, starting with the fact that when I mentioned “reading a long list of bits”, we have to translate these “long lists” into an organized pattern that the computer can read and understand how to translate them into something we humans will understand.

I’ll Byte!

Seamless pattern with abstract binary code, digital matrix background
4 rows of 8 bits = 4 rows of bytes. Photo: iStock

If you align eight bits in a row where some are set to ‘1’ and others are set to ‘0’, you have created what is referred to as a byte. It’s an arrangement that has a particular meaning to the computer.

A byte can be any letter or number from A-Z, 0-9 respectively. It can also store special characters, For example, binary code 00001101 is equal to 13 in decimal form. The alphabetic character “M” is similar in bit arrangement, but with one bit (pun intended again) of a difference, and that is it has an extra ‘on’ bit – 01001100. 

If you were to type the letter ‘R” on your screen, it would involve a different combination of eight bits. In this case, for the letter ‘R, the sequence would be 01000010, and the letter ‘S’ would be 01000011, and so on. 

Let’s backtrack and look at how these bits equate to their electrical equivalent. For our ‘M’ example above, which has the bit arrangement of 01001100, that would equal the following combination of electrical current that is, in this exact sequence: off, on, off, off, on, on, off, off.

This is based on a table called ASCII (As Key), which displays the eight bits (bytes), in ascending sequence, where each byte equates to a letter or number.  

What the particular instruction would be is dependent upon the arrangement of the 1s and 0s. If you are thinking this seems like some type of code, it is and is called binary code.

Understanding how computers use bits and bytes can help you understand how they process everything from the simplest math problems to streaming video or playing games online. Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating topic!

Why are Bits Important?

The bits that make up your data are vital to how your computer operates. Bits determine whether a file is an image, spreadsheet, movie, or audio file; they tell your computer what to do with the information in that file. Converting information into digital form is called encoding; the process of converting it back into its original state is called decoding. Encoding and decoding both involve assigning values to different pieces of information so that a computer can store and process it appropriately.

For example, let’s say you have a picture that you want to save on your computer. The picture will be broken down into individual pixels and assigned an identifying number. This number will represent the color of each pixel (e.g., red, blue, or green). Thus, encoding this picture involves assigning numbers to each piece of information in it—in this case, the colors of each pixel in the photo.

Decoding would work the same way it would give a pixel its original identifying number so that it could once again be identified as a specific color; thus allowing you to see the photo as intended by its creator!

Bits in Programming

When you’re programming a computer, you use bytes to represent information. For example, when the programmer asks the computer to calculate 5+5, it translates this into binary. “0001 0010 0101” So in binary, 5+5 is “0110 0100 0101” (This is called a binary addition). These two numbers are added together and the answer of 10 is sent back. And that’s how bits work!

Summing Up

A computer bit is the smallest unit of information that a computer can read. When you align eight bits in a row, it is called a byte and each byte represents a letter, number, or special character, which is defined by the arrangement of the bits in the byte.

The translation of each byte can be found in the ASCII table. Bits are used to process everything from the simplest math problems to streaming video or playing games online.

What are Semiconductors and How Do They Work?

Close up photo of a motherboard
Semiconductor Computer Chips. Photo by CristianIS https://pixabay.com/users/CristianIS-2094012/ on Pixabay

Overview

This is where we describe the device that controls the flow of electricity inside the semiconductor so that the bit patterns (bytes) can become the language that the computer will translate into human literacy, or in layman’s terms, translate from bytes to English characters, numbers, and special characters.

Driving the Current

You might say electricity hates semiconductors because current can only travel through them when you tell it to, or more specifically when you turn a switch on or off. It is similar to driving a car. You can’t drive down the road and not think there will be any obstacles such as a red light to stop you.

A good example is to picture your car as the current and the road as the semiconductor. Now imagine a light bulb at the end of the road. If the current (your car) continues to travel down the road without hitting a stop light, you will reach the bulb, and voila! You (the current) reached the bulb and lit it up.

Car on road with arrow pointing to light bulb
Photo by SS. Light bulb Pixaby.

But what if there was a red light on the road? You must stop the car (stop the flow of current) and then there is no voila. The bulb will not light because no electricity was allowed to continue down the road to reach it.  

Another analogy is when you turn on a faucet to allow water to flow. When you are done, you turn it off and the water stops flowing, but you can also control the speed or force at which the water comes out. It is this force that can be equated to voltage when referring to electricity. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail. 

The Voltage Factor

So the flow of electricity that is controlled through the semiconductor is via the amount of voltage that is being used. If too little voltage is implemented, then no electrical current will flow through, but if you raise the voltage, it will trigger the semiconductor to open the gate and allow the current to flow through. In other words, voltage is the controlling factor in whether current will or will not flow through the conductor.

The Managing Device Within the Semiconductor

This control of whether current flows or doesn’t flow through a semiconductor has a name – transistor, which is nothing more than a switch to allow or disallow electricity to travel through it. The transistor will open when a specific amount of voltage (force) is used but will close when not enough voltage is used.

Before semiconductors were introduced, transistors were controlled by vacuum tubes. They were large, bulky devices, but they worked the same way as today’s tiny transistors do. You may recall seeing old photos of large rooms filled with vacuum tubes. That’s what it took to just make some simple calculations.Transistor size comparisons

Transistor Sizes as Compared Throughout the Decades. Top-Left is a vacuum tube that would represent one transistor., equating to one state of either on or off. The rightmost device is a semiconductor computer chip that can contain hundreds or even thousands of transistors with simultaneous on and off states. Photo vlabo from iStock

Today’s transistors are tiny and the hundreds, if not thousands of vacuum tubes that filled a room can now fit on a computer chip the size of your fingernail. These ‘chips’, sit on a board, called a motherboard that connects the circuits which allow the current to run along with it.

Computer Board
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán: https://www.pexels.com/photo/green-circuit-board-343457/

The transistor’s on and off states create logic that represents the basic building blocks of the decision making process; however, we don’t refer to this process as on or off. Instead, we represent it by numbers. ‘1’ represents ‘on’ and ‘0’ represents ‘off’, which in computer talk are called bits.

Our article on how bits and bytes work explains this in more detail. 

What are Semiconductors Made Of?

Transistors are made of silicon and germanium, an element typically found in sand. The physical characteristics of silicon and germanium can be perfect conductors to allow current to flow without much resistance, but can also be perfect insulators to stop any current from flowing, which makes it a truly superior mineral when you need to control electricity.

Summary

Transistors allow current to flow or not to flow through it. The material that the current resides in is silicon, which is used because its properties allow it to work well as a conductor but just as well as an insulator. Each on or off state is represented by a ‘1’ or ‘0’ and is called a bit. Eight bits make a byte, and it is the particular pattern of bits in each of the bytes that determines a certain instruction for the computer to follow.

Howard Fensterman Minerals