Who discovered the electric charge and how

Science in dialogue

Who invented electricity and how does it get into the power line?

Nobody actually invented electricity. Electricity is a natural phenomenon. When we say that electricity is flowing, tiny particles that carry an electrical charge are all moving in the same direction in a controlled manner.

Such particles are, for example, the electrons, which are components of the atoms that ultimately make up all things in our world. With their charge, electrons can exert force on other charged particles and transport energy. The reason for their joint movement in one direction is a so-called voltage difference. Simply put, this means nothing else than that there are fewer electrons on the side to which the electrons are moving than where they come from. Seen in this way, “power generation” is nothing more than the separation of electrical charges.

People knew very early on that there are charged particles. But it took them a long time to learn how to use them technically. Today it is hard to imagine life without electricity. Electricity makes the refrigerator cold and the oven hot. He runs televisions and computers, and runs subways and trains. Without electricity, many things in industry could not be made, many patients could not be examined and treated. But power generation can also be a problem. For example, when it releases pollutants that many now believe will help to change our climate.

Even in ancient times, people discovered phenomena that were caused by electrically charged particles. Thales of Miletus, who lived over two and a half thousand years ago, could be described as the namesake of the electron. The Greek scholar found that when amber is rubbed, it can attract small, light particles. Charged particles collect on the amber surface and use their force to attract other particles. The Greek word for amber is "electron".

It would take over a thousand years before it was possible to generate a continuous flow of electrons, a current. Dr. Rolf Winter from the Institute for Physics at the University of Potsdam. Alessandro Volta invented the first working battery around 1775. It generates a current through chemical reactions. If the raw materials are "used up", the battery is empty and no more electricity can flow. Batteries today provide electricity for cars or flashlights, for example, and are built into watches, MP3 players and electronic toys. We find the name of its inventor in the unit of electrical voltage, the volt.

André Marie Ampère discovered the connection between electricity and magnetism - the prerequisite for the construction of generators, which are responsible for generating electricity in almost all power plants in the world today, and described electricity and voltage with mathematical equations.

The generator was finally developed by Werner Siemens around 1866. The dynamo, as it was called back then, can convert kinetic energy into electrical energy. It is still used (almost) everywhere to generate electricity. Whether in coal, wind, water or nuclear power plants. Only solar power plants can do without generators, since the sun (in simplified terms) can move the electrons directly in the material of the solar cell.

After the electricity has been produced in the power plants, it is fed into the power line system. As soon as a device is connected or switched on in the household or elsewhere, the circuit is closed and the current can flow.

By the way, a simple form of the generator can be found in almost every household. The dynamo on the bicycle, which uses the turning of the wheel to generate electricity for the lamp.

The question was answered by Dr. Ursula Resch-Esser, physicist and internet editor at Wissenschaft im Dialog