There are different types of elements in our surroundings. These elements are organised into different categories based on their physical features like shape, size, colour, texture, polarity, malleability, solubility, etc.
One such important category based on which elements are classified is conductivity. That is the ability of a component to allow ions or electrons to move freely. Based on their conductivity, elements are categorised into conductors and insulators.
- Conductors are materials that allow the flow of electric charge, making them essential components in electrical circuits and power transmission.
- Insulators are materials that resist the flow of electric charge, providing protection from electrical currents and helping to prevent short circuits and electrical hazards.
- The choice between conductors and insulators depends on the specific application, with conductors facilitating the flow of electricity and insulators preventing it.
Conductor vs Insulator
A conductor is a material or an object that allows the flow of electrons freely through it, which makes it useful for carrying electric current. An insulator is a material or an object that resists the flow of electrons, hence stopping electric current from passing through it.
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A conductor is described as a material that permits electrons to flow freely and easily from one particular to another in one or more than one direction.
Such free flow of electrons allows heat or electric charge energy to pass through the material quickly.
On the other hand, an Insulator is a material that does not permit electrons to flow freely.
On the contrary, it holds the electrons tightly within the atoms of a material. Consequently, it obstructs the free flow of energy from heat or electric current passing through the material.
|Parameter of Comparison||Conductor||Insulator|
|Definition||It refers to the elements that allow electric current or heat to pass through them.||It refers to the elements that do not permit electric current or heat to travel through them.|
|Electrons||It has free-flowing electrons.||It has tightly knit electrons.|
|Electric field||It is found on the surface of the material.||It does not exist in the material.|
|Used for||Making electric wires, switches and sockets.||Making the outer cover of the wires, switches and sockets.|
What is Conductor?
v They have high conductivity and poor resistance to electric or thermal energy flow.
This happens because of the presence of ‘free electrons’ in the atomic structure of a conductor.
‘Free electrons’ refer to those electrons which can be easily exchanged with the electrons of other atoms. That is, their bond with the atom of which they are a part lacks strength.
This lack of strength permits the free flow of energy from one atom to another.
The extent to which a material or a substance allows charges or heat to travel through it depends on the number of ‘free electrons’ in its atoms’ outermost orbits.
A substance or material can be considered a good conductor if it has more ‘free electrons’ in the outermost or peripheral shells of its atoms.
Also, there should be no space between the conduction band and the valence band (known as the forbidden energy gap) so that the electrons can quickly move to other atoms.
An object that is made of a material which has conducting qualities will receive the charges passed on it from another object and allow those charges to get distributed all over its surface
unless the repulsive forces between the surplus electrons reduce to the maximum extent possible.
Exchanging charges between two objects becomes easy if both contain conducting materials.
Interestingly, most conductors are made up of metals such as mercury, copper, aluminium, silver, and so on.
Among these, silver is considered the best conductor but is not used for making electric wires because its cost is very high.
What is Insulator?
It is described as a substance or material that retards or blocks the flow of electric current or heat. Insulators have low conductivity and high resistance to thermal or electric energy flow.
This happens because the atoms present in the insulators have a powerful covalent bond between them. Consequently, there is no free movement or exchange of electrons.
Also, insulators have a vast space known as the forbidden gap between the conduction band and the valence band, which demands a lot of energy from the valence electrons to pass through this gap and reach the conduction band.
When some amount of charge or heat is passed on to an object made up of an insulating material, it remains at the starting position and does not get dispersed across the outer layer of the thing.
Consequently, one needs to rub that object with a suitable material so that it gets charged. Another method that can be used to charge such an object is induction.
In an electric circuit, insulators are mainly employed to keep the conductors apart from each other and the other objects around the course.
Insulators ensure that the current flowing through the wires remains within the wire and does not move away to any other object made up of a conducting material.
In the case of thermal energy, they break up the heat flow path by absorbing radiant heat. Most insulators comprise non-metals like rubber, plastic, porcelain, mica, fibreglass etc.
Main Differences Between Conductor and Insulator
- A conductor allows energy, e.g. electric charge or heat, to pass through quickly. At the same time, an insulator does not let electric current or heat travel through it.
- Insulators have molecular solid bonds. At the same time, molecular bonds are fragile in conductors.
- Insulators have very low conductivity. While in conductors, it is very high.
- Insulators have a very high resistance, so the electrons are held together very firmly. The conductors, on the other hand, have meagre resistance.
- Insulators do not have any electric field, neither inside nor on the surface. While in conductors, it is found on the surface and continues to be zero in the inner part of the conductor.
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Piyush Yadav has spent the past 25 years working as a physicist in the local community. He is a physicist passionate about making science more accessible to our readers. He holds a BSc in Natural Sciences and Post Graduate Diploma in Environmental Science. You can read more about him on his bio page.