Skip to main content

What is Current?

An ammeter is a measuring instrument used to measure the electric current in a circuit.

An ammeter is a measuring instrument used to measure the electric current in a circuit.

What is Current?

An electric current is produced when electrons move through a substance. Cooper wire is often used to carry electrical current. Electrons normally revolve about the nucleus of each atom of cooper in the wire, but when electrical pressure (that is the voltage) from a battery or generator is applied, some of these electrons are forced out of their orbits and pass from atom to atom along the length of the wire. These electrons are called free electrons and come from the outer orbit of the atom.

The amount of current depends on the number of electrons passing a given point in a circuit each second. It is measured in amperes (A) using an instrument called an ammeter. An ammeter must be connected in series with other devices in a circuit. The letter I is used to represent the amount of current in a circuit.

Types of Current

  •  A direct current (DC) is produced when free electrons move in only one direction in a conductor.
  • Pulsating direct current is a current  in one direction which regularly varies in intensity.
  • Alternating Current (AC) is produced when the current regularly changes its direction and intensity.

Direction of Current Flow

The voltage produced by a DC source causes electrons to flow through a circuit from one terminal of the source to the other.  It was once thought that the current flow was from the positive terminal to the negative terminal.  This is referred to as conventional current flow.  Although it was later discovered that the current actually flows in the other direction, this conventional current flow is still used today. 

Effects of electric currents

When an electrical current flows in a conductor two effects are always present. These are heat and magnetism. As current moves through the conductors, work is being done by the electrons to overcome the resistance of the conductor’s material and heat is generated as a result.

The amount of heat energy (measured in joules) depends upon the amount of current and the resistance of the conductor.

Formula for Heat


There is always a magnetic field surrounding a conductor that has current flowing through it. The larger the current, the greater the magnetic strength. This effect can be used to create an electromagnet. To intensify the magnetic field we wind the wire into a coil. To further increase the strength of the magnetic field we place an iron core inside the elecromagnet.

Another effect of electric current can be a chemical effect. When current flows through certain gases or liquids there is a chemical reaction. For example, if a metal object is palced in a solution of silver nitrate and a current is passed through the soluiton, the silver is deposited on the metal object. We also utilise this effect when we recharge a lead-acid battery.


The property of a material which causes it to oppose the movement of electrons is called resistance. All materials have some resistance. Materials which offers little resistance to electron movement are called conductors. Those which offer high resistance are called non-conductors or insulators.

Resistance is represented in formulas by the letter R and is measured in ohms. The symbols for ohms is the Greek letter Omega (Ω). The instrument used to measure resistance is called ohmmeter. The voltage source must be disconnected from the circuit when using an ohmmeter.


Conductors are substances that allow the passage of electric current and their resistance is usually low.  They are different  from other materials because their atoms have fewer than four electrons in their outer orbit.  These electrons are not tightly bound to the nucleus of the atom and can easily become free electrons when a voltage is applied to the conductor.  Most conductors are metals.


Insulators are non metallic substances that do not allow the passage of elctric current easily and have a very high resistance.  They have more than four electrons in the outer orbit of the atom, so these electrons are tighly bound to the nucleus. When a voltage is applied to an insulator, very few electrons become free and there is little or no current flow. There is no such thing as a perfect insulator because all insualting materials will allow some current to flow if the voltage is high enough.  However, under normal conditions we can assume that insulators allow no current flow.


Semiconductors are substances that have only four electrons in the outer electron orbit.  Under certain conditions they act as conductors, but under different conditons they act as insulators


  • Mica
  • Ceramics
  • Plastic
  • Wood
  • Argon
  • Glass

Common conductors, insulators and semiconductors


Scroll to Continue
  • Copper
  • Brass
  • Gold
  • Solder (tin and lead)
  • Aluminum
  • Silver


  • Germanium
  • Silicon

Date : 23 August 2009

Reference: Wale, David. Electricity , Melbourne: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1994.


SHECKLER on June 06, 2012:

thanks, easy to understand in simple terms

Hiba on April 22, 2012:

It is simple,easy to understand..thanks

Indispensible on March 23, 2012:

Straight to the point and simple. Tnx

ejaz hussain on January 06, 2012:

thanks, easy to understand in simple terms and language.

yagamurthy on January 04, 2012:

very useful

BIJUMANIYAN,KUWAIT on December 31, 2011:


Bilal on November 27, 2011:

Useful website

wania fatima on November 24, 2011:

i didn`t get direction of flow of current

nicolletwatchamachulet on November 09, 2011:

this is so enjoyable:)

subhan on October 29, 2011:

good. thanx a lot

Deepak on October 28, 2011:

good one

mohammed rafi ul huq on October 15, 2011:

it was useful

sawan on October 05, 2011:

I am really satisfied, Thanks.

hassan adil on September 18, 2011:

great . excellent writing skills. i must appreciate it.

sekhar on September 18, 2011:

i did'n fully understand about the first line written.

but what is current

revathi on September 15, 2011:


ghulam awais qarni chishti sialvy from govt. comprehensive school gujrat pakistan on August 31, 2011:

thanks a million.ur answer meets with my mind level.thanks.ur language is very i will propagate this web site to all my friends.

ghulam awais qarni chishti sialvy on August 31, 2011:

thanks a million.ur answer meets with my mind level.thanks.ur language is very i will propagate this web site to all my friends.

ILA on August 31, 2011:


MADHUMATHI on August 19, 2011:


vinod rao on August 09, 2011:

very interesting....thnaks 4 sharing

mba project topics on June 04, 2011:

Your hub clearly explained about current, nice article.

younis keerio on March 14, 2011:

good result

prasanth on January 25, 2011:

GRAET!!!Its really awesome.And the basics are so clear to undersatand.GREAT JOB!!

talha malik on January 23, 2011:

great !!! it really help me.

Biplab Mandal on January 13, 2011:

Really, it is very helpful and easy to understand for all.


Me on January 05, 2011:

Revising for my GCSE atm, and this cleared a lot up, thanks! :D

srikanth on December 13, 2010:

it making good for the students for gaining some knowledge

BENDU LAXMIPRASAD on December 08, 2010:



sindhu on December 02, 2010:

The information is very useful to learn basics

Migodden from Canada Ontario on July 03, 2010:

Nice hub! I actually just finished writing a hub about electricity in general. Do you want to link to each other's hubs for reference? Let me know.

MUJITABA ZANGON DAURA. on June 26, 2010:

Very interesting. Thanks

Peter Enmore on June 08, 2010:

The current is the flow of the electric charge, which is based on the resistance. An easy way to demonstrate this is to get an electrical circuit board with resistors and conductors and play with it yourself.

vishal on June 04, 2010:

very basic thanks

srikanthkatra on April 13, 2010:

simple to understand and useful information

guidebaba from India on April 03, 2010:

Very good explanation.

Mohammed Ali from BGS on February 11, 2010:




Javaid Faridi on January 25, 2010:

Simple and straightforward. Great One

Ashu on January 23, 2010:

Very useful information........

mel22 from , on January 05, 2010:

Good info on the above or below four orbitals. Stuff i knew from school but never applied.

little bit on November 19, 2009:

thanks for the help. i needed it thinkes for the cool updat on that.

samrah on September 08, 2009:

thanks for this amusing data God bless.

artrush73 on August 24, 2009:

Very interesting stuff . thanks for sharing :)

Related Articles