The Secret Dance of Electricity
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The Secret Dance of Electricity

By Katie Miller

Every day, we rely on electrical devices like lights, computers, and TVs. But have you ever wondered where that electricity comes from? The answer lies in a remarkable invention called a generator, a machine that produces electricity. 

Generators work on a principle called electromagnetic induction, which was discovered in 1831 by an English scientist named Michael Faraday, who found that when you move a conductor, like a wire, in a magnetic field, it can create an electrical current.

Inside a generator, there’s a big magnet. There’s also a copper coil that looks like a spring made of wire. When the generator turns, it spins the copper coil around the magnet. In this dance, the spinning coil cuts through the unseen magnetic field, prompting electrons in the copper wire to move from one place to another and creating an electrical current. 

But here’s the thing about generators: they don’t really create electricity from scratch. Instead, they convert one form of energy into another. So the energy in a generator comes from something else, like the wind or water or steam. For example, a wind turbine works by harnessing kinetic energy from the wind to spin the copper coil inside its generator, creating electrical energy. Similarly, when you use electricity from a generator to power something, like a lightbulb or a computer, you’re converting the electrical energy into something else. When you turn on a light, for instance, and it makes the room brighter, you’re changing the electrical energy into electromagnetic energy.

In short, generators are really useful machines that can take kinetic energy from the environment and turn it into electricity.  They do this by using the power of magnets and motion. So next time you plug in your laptop or turn on the lights, just know that there is a copper coil spinning around a magnet somewhere close by, making it all possible!


References

BBC. (n.d.). Induced potential and the generator effect – electromagnetic induction . BBC Bitesize. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z8c7pbk/revision/1 

Generator effect. Exploratorium. (n.d.). https://annex.exploratorium.edu/xref/exhibits/generator_effect.html 

Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (2006). Faraday’s law of induction. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/Faradays-law-of-induction

Robinson, F. Neville H. , Kashy, . Edwin and McGrayne. Sharon Bertsch (2023, May 28). electromagnetism. Encyclopedia Britannica. 

https://www.britannica.com/science/electromagnetism

Make your own electromagnet. Clearway Community Solar. (2021, July 6). https://www.clearwaycommunitysolar.com/blog/science-center-home-experiments-for-kids/make-your-own-electromagnetic-power/