Conductors, Semiconductors, Insulators, and Superconductors

Objective

To explore electronic properties of various solids around us.

Difficulty

Procedure: Hard

Concept: Hard

Concept

So many devices around us that made our quality of life so much better are electronics. The electronic devices rely of the control of the flow of electrons. Depending on the material’s ability to conduct electricity we classify them as insulator, conductor, semiconductor and superconductors.

Insulators block electric current from flowing. This is useful to protect circuit from short wire or keep us from harmful high voltage. Common insulators around us are air, pure water, glass, and etc.

Conductors are those that can conduct electricity. Wires are made out of conductors. They easily conduct electricity and enable us to connect the current from one place to another. Example of such materials are copper, silver, tap water, and generally most of materials we consider metals.

Semiconductor is somewhere between conductor and insulator. Depending on the purity, voltage, and even temperature semiconductors can conduct electricity or not. This makes semiconductors very valuable material for electronics. They can manipulate the current flow!

Superconductors are a novel material that shows zero resistance. So you can run current through and you won’t lose any energy! Sounds like a great idea to save energy, so why not just use superconductors instead of conductors? There is a catch. Superconductors are normally conductors. They become superconductor in only certain situation. Majorly superconductivity depends on temperature, current, and magnetic field. This is not all. Some are only superconductors in very high pressure. So while we hope to be able to use these someday, it is still very hard to implement this.

So, how do you investigate their properties? There are millions of variables to explore. Three most common ones we can measure is current, voltage, and resistance. Current and voltage are not the inherent property of material but of a circuit but can be used to measure resistance which is, using ohm’s Law. These can be easily measured using multimeter that can be purchased in local hardware store.

So, explore these properties around you!

Personalizing Your Project

Things to Consider

  1. Dealing with electric device can be dangerous. Please read safety section of the webpage
  2. Be aware of error bar of values used.
  3. This is a thought experiment. There is no phsical harm.

Google Key Words

To do more research on conductors, try typing these words into a Google search.

References

  1. http://galileoandeinstein.physics.virginia.edu/more_stuff/flashlets/kepler6.htm
  2. Elementary Solid State Physics: Principles and Applications by M. Ali Omar