Difference Between Insulator and Non-Conductor (With Table)

When it comes to materials related to electricity or electric fields, the list is very long. However, there are some materials and substances which are really important in daily life activities. Some of these may require complex understanding, and if not, then it might create confusion. Insulators and non-conductors are two such terms.

Insulator vs Non-Conductor 

The difference between Insulator and Non-Conductor is that an insulator is any substance that prohibits the transmission of heat, sound, or electricity. Whereas, non-conductor is any material that prohibits the transmission of electricity. There are other differences between the two in reference to their origin, synonyms, antonyms, and other related terms.

Insulators are those substances that do not allow heat, sound, or electricity to pass through them. There are mainly three different types of insulators, namely, thermal insulators, electric insulators, and sound insulators. They are more like resistors or obstacles. It originated from the Latin word insulate, which means isolation.

Non-Conductors are materials that do not allow the flow of electric current in a body. It is a poor electrical insulator. An applied electric field can polarize this material. These materials are also called dielectric materials. They are materials with a high polarizability. Ceramics, glasses, mica, and plastics are popular examples.

Comparison Table Between Insulator and Non-Conductor 

Parameters of ComparisonInsulator Non-Conductor
MeaningSubstances that prohibit transmission of heat, sound, or electricity.Materials that prohibit the flow of electric current.
OriginIt originated from the Latin word ‘insulate’, which means to isolate.It originated from the word ‘electric’.
SynonymsIts synonyms are insulant- for substances, and isolation- for the process.It is also called Dielectric.
IndicationIt means electrical restriction or obstruction.It means energy storing capacity of material.
ExampleSome examples are plastics, paper, styrofoam, glass, rubber, and dry air.Some examples are porcelain or ceramic, glass, mica, plastics, and the oxides of different metals.

What is Insulator?

An insulator refers to different substances that block or resist the flow of electric or thermal currents. It is often considered a non-conducting material. However, it is generally a very poor conductor of electricity or something that has high electrical resistance. A material constant called resistivity helps in the comparison of various insulating and conducting materials. The purpose of electrical insulators is to hold conductors in position. This separates them from each other as well as their surrounding structures. They help in creating blockades between the energized circuit, confining the flow to the wires, and conducting paths. Electrical circuits must be compulsorily insulated for many safety reasons. Electric insulators are made up of different types of materials.

The insulators are chosen as per the requirements and applications. For electrical wiring in homes, buildings, and offices have copper conductors, and rubber or plastic insulators are used. Porcelain is used for overhead power lines. Mica is used for big generators and motors operating at high voltages and temperatures. Solid insulation is employed with liquid or gaseous insulation in some applications. Fibreglass, cork, rock wool are a few examples of thermal insulators. These substances are those which have low thermal conductivity. They also obstruct the flow of heat. 

What is Non-Conductor?

As the name suggests, non-conductors are those materials that are not conductors. This is why they are also confused about insulators. However, these are the materials that only prohibit the flow of electric current. They do not comprise loosely bound or free electrons. In a way, they are electrical insulators, but they work differently. This happens with the help of electric polarization. They are materials with a high polarizability. It is a dielectric material or a dielectric medium. William Whewell coined the term dielectric. In simple terms, it is a type of electric insulator that an applied electric field can polarize. This is called dielectric polarization.

Upon the placement of non-conductor or dielectric material in an electric field, the charges cannot flow through the material. The opposite happens in the case of conducting materials. Here, in the case of dielectric or non-conductor material, the charges undergo a slight shift from average equilibrium positions. This results in the displacement of positive charges in the direction of the field and negative charges in the direction opposite to the field. Therefore creating an internal electric field that reduces the overall electric field. This phenomenon is studied in depth in various fields, including electromagnetism.

Main Differences Between Insulator and Non-Conductor 

  1. Insulators are substances that prohibit the transmission of heat, sound, or electricity. Non-Conductors are materials that prohibit the flow of electric current.
  2. The term Insulator originated from the Latin word ‘insulate’, which means to isolate. The term Non-Conductor originated from the word ‘electric’.
  3. Insulator’s synonyms are insulant- for substances, and isolation- for the process. Non-Conductor is also called Dielectric.
  4. Insulators indicate electrical restriction or obstruction. Non-Conductors indicate the energy storing capacity of the material.
  5. Some examples of Insulators are plastics, paper, styrofoam, glass, rubber, and dry air. Some examples of Non-Conductors are porcelain or ceramic, glass, mica, plastics, and the oxides of different metals.

Conclusion

Insulators and Non-conductors are the two terms that can cause confusion in anyone’s mind, as they both have a similar purpose. Their opposites are also common, namely conductors. Insulators obstruct the flow of electricity, heat, and sound. Whereas non-conductors only prohibit the flow of electricity. The method by which it is done is also different for both of them. Insulator originated from the Latin word ‘insulate’, which means to isolate. Whereas, Non-Conductor is from the word ‘electric’.

Insulator has synonyms, including insulant- for substances, and isolation- for the process. Whereas, Non-Conductor is also called Dielectric. Insulators indicate electrical restriction or obstruction. Non-Conductors indicate the energy storing capacity of the material. Plastics, paper, styrofoam, glass, rubber, and dry air are popular examples of Insulators. Ceramic, glass, mica, plastics, and the oxides of different metals are examples of Non-conductors. In a way, non-conductors are electrical insulators. 

References

  1. https://www.osti.gov/biblio/4204499
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0368204876800291
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