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Difference between Conductor and Insulator

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Last updated date: 16th Apr 2024
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What is Conductor and Insulator: Introduction

Imagine a world without electricity, where the flow of energy is restricted and limited. Conductors and insulators are the key players in facilitating or impeding the movement of electric charge, allowing us to harness and control electrical energy. Conductors enable the efficient flow of electric current, while insulators act as barriers, restricting the flow of electricity. In this article, we will delve into the characteristics, differences, and applications of conductors and insulators, shedding light on their importance in various aspects of our daily lives.


Defining Conductor

Conductors: A conductor is a material that allows the flow of electric charge or electric current through it with minimal resistance. In conductors, the outermost electrons of atoms are loosely bound and can easily move from one atom to another. This mobility of electrons facilitates the flow of electric charge. Common examples of conductors include metals like copper, silver, and aluminum. Conductors are widely used in electrical wiring, power transmission lines, and various electronic components.


Defining Insulator

Insulators: An insulator, also known as a non-conductor, is a material that resists the flow of electric charge. Insulators have tightly bound electrons, which are not easily movable. This prevents the flow of electric current through the material. Examples of insulators include rubber, plastic, glass, and ceramic materials. Insulators are essential for electrical insulation, preventing electric shocks, and providing safety in various electrical and electronic systems.


Characteristics of Conductors and Insulators

Conductivity: The primary distinguishing characteristic between conductors and insulators is their conductivity. Conductors have high electrical conductivity, allowing electric charges to move freely. In contrast, insulators have low electrical conductivity, impeding the flow of electric charge. 


Electron Mobility: Conductors have electrons that are loosely bound and can move freely in response to an electric field. Insulators, on the other hand, have electrons that are tightly bound to their respective atoms and do not move easily under the influence of an electric field.


Energy Band Gap: Another characteristic that sets conductors and insulators apart is their energy band gap. Conductors have a small or negligible energy band gap, meaning there is an overlap between the valence band and the conduction band. Insulators, however, have a large energy band gap, which prevents the flow of electrons from the valence band to the conduction band.


Applications of Conductors and Insulators

Examples and Uses of Conductors: 

Copper: Copper is one of the most commonly used conductors due to its high electrical conductivity. It is widely used in electrical wiring, power transmission lines, electrical motors, and generators.


Aluminum: Aluminum is another popular conductor used in power transmission lines and electrical wiring. It is lightweight and cost-effective, making it suitable for long-distance power transmission.


Silver: Silver is an excellent conductor with the highest electrical conductivity among all metals. It is used in high-performance electronic components, connectors, and specialised applications where maximum conductivity is required.

 

Gold: Gold is a highly conductive metal commonly used in electronic connectors, printed circuit boards, and precision instruments. It offers excellent conductivity and corrosion resistance. 


Graphite: Graphite is a unique conductor used in various applications, including batteries, electrodes, lubricants, and electrical heating elements.


Examples and Uses of Inductors:

Rubber: Rubber is widely used as an insulator in electrical cables, wires, and power cords. Its high dielectric strength and flexibility make it suitable for insulating purposes.


Plastic: Various types of plastics, such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and PE (polyethylene), are commonly used as insulating materials in electrical wiring, cables, and electronic devices.


Glass: Glass is an excellent electrical insulator and is used in applications such as insulating windows, laboratory equipment, and high-voltage insulators.


Ceramic: Ceramic materials, including porcelain and alumina, are extensively used as insulators in electrical power systems, insulators for electrical equipment, and spark plugs.


Mica: Mica is a natural mineral with excellent insulating properties. It is used in electrical and thermal insulation applications, including electrical panels, capacitors, and heating elements.


Difference between Conductor and Insulator

Sr. No.

Category

Conductor

Insulator

1

Definition

Allows the flow of electric charge

Resists the flow of electric charge

2

Electrical Conductivity

High

Low

3

Electron Mobility

Electrons can move freely

Electrons are tightly bound to atoms and do not move easily 

4

Energy Band Gap

Small or negligible

Large

5

Examples

Electrical wiring, power transmission, electronic components

Electrical insulation, safety measures, construction materials


Summary

In summary, conductors and insulators are two types of materials that exhibit contrasting properties when it comes to the flow of electric charge. Conductors allow the easy movement of electrons and have high electrical conductivity, while insulators restrict the flow of electric charge and have low electrical conductivity. Conductors are extensively used in electrical systems, wiring, and electronic components, facilitating the efficient transmission of electrical energy.


Insulators, on the other hand, play a crucial role in electrical insulation, providing safety and preventing electric shocks. Understanding the difference between conductors and insulators is vital for various fields, including electrical engineering, physics, and everyday applications.

FAQs on Difference between Conductor and Insulator

1. Can an insulator become a conductor? 

In certain situations, an insulator can become a conductor. This phenomenon is known as electrical breakdown. When the voltage across an insulator exceeds a certain threshold, the insulator's resistance decreases, allowing electric current to flow through it. This can occur, for example, during a lightning strike or when an insulating material is subjected to a high electric field, causing it to conduct electricity temporarily. 

2. Can a material be both a conductor and an insulator? 

No, a material cannot be both a conductor and insulator simultaneously. Conductors and insulators are distinct categories based on their ability to conduct electric current. However, it's important to note that some materials, known as semiconductors, exhibit properties of both conductors and insulators. Semiconductors have intermediate levels of electrical conductivity and can be controlled to behave as either conductors or insulators by modifying factors such as temperature or doping. 

3. Why are conductors used for electrical wiring instead of insulators? 

Conductors are used for electrical wiring because they allow the flow of electric current with minimal resistance. This characteristic ensures efficient transmission of electricity from the power source to the desired destination. Insulators, on the other hand, are used to surround and protect the conductors, preventing the unwanted flow of electric current and ensuring safety. Using insulating materials for wiring helps to avoid electrical shocks, short circuits, and other hazards that could result from the direct contact of conductive materials.