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Note that the energies calculated in the previous example are absolute values. The change in potential energy for the battery is negative, since it loses energy. These batteries, like many electrical systems, actually move negative charge—electrons in particular. The batteries repel electrons from their negative terminals (A) through whatever circuitry is involved and attract them to their positive terminals (B) as shown in [link] . The change in potential is Δ V = V B –V A = +12 V and the charge q is negative, so that ΔPE = q Δ V is negative, meaning the potential energy of the battery has decreased when q has moved from A to B.

A headlight is connected to a 12 V battery. Negative charges move from the negative terminal of the battery to the positive terminal, resulting in a current flow and making the headlight glow. However, the positive terminal is at a greater potential than the negative terminal.
A battery moves negative charge from its negative terminal through a headlight to its positive terminal. Appropriate combinations of chemicals in the battery separate charges so that the negative terminal has an excess of negative charge, which is repelled by it and attracted to the excess positive charge on the other terminal. In terms of potential, the positive terminal is at a higher voltage than the negative. Inside the battery, both positive and negative charges move.

How many electrons move through a headlight each second?

When a 12.0 V car battery runs a single 30.0 W headlight, how many electrons pass through it each second?


To find the number of electrons, we must first find the charge that moved in 1.00 s. The charge moved is related to voltage and energy through the equation ΔPE = q Δ V . A 30.0 W lamp uses 30.0 joules per second. Since the battery loses energy, we have ΔPE = –30.0 J and, since the electrons are going from the negative terminal to the positive, we see that Δ V = +12.0 V .


To find the charge q size 12{q} {} moved, we solve the equation ΔPE = q Δ V :

q = ΔPE Δ V .

Entering the values for Δ PE size 12{?"PE"} {} and Δ V , we get

q = –30.0 J +12.0 V = –30.0 J +12.0 J/C = –2.50 C.

The number of electrons n e size 12{n rSub { size 8{e} } } {} is the total charge divided by the charge per electron. That is,

n e = –2.50 C –1.60 × 10 –19 C/e = 1.56 × 10 19 electrons.


This is a very large number. It is no wonder that we do not ordinarily observe individual electrons with so many being present in ordinary systems. In fact, electricity had been in use for many decades before it was determined that the moving charges in many circumstances were negative. Positive charge moving in the opposite direction of negative charge often produces identical effects; this makes it difficult to determine which is moving or whether both are moving.

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The electron volt

The energy per electron is very small in macroscopic situations like that in the previous example—a tiny fraction of a joule. But on a submicroscopic scale, such energy per particle (electron, proton, or ion) can be of great importance. For example, even a tiny fraction of a joule can be great enough for these particles to destroy organic molecules and harm living tissue. The particle may do its damage by direct collision, or it may create harmful x rays, which can also inflict damage. It is useful to have an energy unit related to submicroscopic effects. [link] shows a situation related to the definition of such an energy unit. An electron is accelerated between two charged metal plates as it might be in an old-model television tube or oscilloscope. The electron is given kinetic energy that is later converted to another form—light in the television tube, for example. (Note that downhill for the electron is uphill for a positive charge.) Since energy is related to voltage by ΔPE = q Δ V , we can think of the joule as a coulomb-volt.

Questions & Answers

what is torque
Deepak Reply
The turning effect of force is called torque.
What is the effect of static electricity
what there factors affect the surface tension of a liquid
Promise Reply
formula for impedance
muyiwa Reply
ehat is central forces
Nita Reply
what is distance?
Jonathan Reply
What does mean ohms law imply
Victoria Reply
ohms law state that the electricity passing through a metallic conductor is directly proportional to the potential difference across its end
what is matter
folajin Reply
Anything that occupies space
Any thing that has weight and occupies space
Anything which we can feel by any of our 5 sense organs
what is a sulphate
any answers
the time rate of increase in velocity is called
Blessing Reply
What is uniform velocity
Greetings,users of that wonderful app.
Frank Reply
how to solve pressure?
Cruz Reply
how do we calculate weight and eara eg an elefant that weight 2000kg has four fits or legs search of surface eara is 0.1m2(1metre square) incontact with the ground=10m2(g =10m2)
can someone derive the formula a little bit deeper?
what is coplanar force?
forces acting and lying on d same plane
what is accuracy and precision
Peace Reply
How does a current follow?
Vineeta Reply
which one dc or ac current.
how does a current following?
AC current
AC current follows due to changing electric field and magnetic field.
you guys are just saying follow is flow not follow please
ok bro thanks
but i wanted to understand him/her in his own language
but I think the statement is written in English not any other language
my mean that in which form he/she written this,will understand better in this form, i write.
ok thanks bro. my mistake
u are welcome
what is a semiconductor
Vineeta Reply
substances having lower forbidden gap between valence band and conduction band
what is a conductor?
replace lower by higher only
convert 56°c to kelvin
How does a current follow?
A semiconductor is any material whose conduction lies between that of a conductor and an insulator.
what is Atom? what is molecules? what is ions?
Abubakar Reply
atoms are the smallest unit of an element which is capable of behaving as a single unit
a molecule is d smallest unit of a substances capable of independent existence and can also retain the chemical proper ties of that substance
an ion is referred to as freely moving charged particles
Practice Key Terms 4

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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