When it comes to materials related to electricity or electric fields, the list is very long. However, some materials and substances are really important in daily life activities.
Some of these may require complex understanding, which might create confusion. Insulators and non-conductors are two such terms.
- An insulator is a material that resists the flow of electric current, while a non-conductor is a material that does not conduct electricity.
- Insulators are used to prevent the flow of electric current, while non-conductors are incapable of conducting electricity.
- Insulators are commonly used in electrical wiring and insulation, while non-conductors can be found in various applications such as insulation, coatings, and packaging.
Insulator vs Non-Conductor
Insulator is a material that does not allow an electric current to flow freely due to its low electrical conductivity. The insulator prevents electricity or heat from being transmitted. Non-conductor is a material that prevents the transfer of electricity or cannot conduct heat or electricity.
Insulators are those substances that do not allow heat, sound, or electricity to pass through them. There are mainly three different types of insulators: 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.
|Parameters of Comparison||Insulator||Non-Conductor|
|Meaning||Substances that prohibit transmission of heat, sound, or electricity.||Materials that prohibit the flow of electric current.|
|Origin||It originated from the Latin word ‘insulate’, which means to isolate.||It originated from the word ‘electric’.|
|Synonyms||Its synonyms are insulant- for substances, and isolation- for the process.||It is also called Dielectric.|
|Indication||It means electrical restriction or obstruction.||It means the energy-storing capacity of the material.|
|Example||Some 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. Copper conductors and rubber or plastic insulators are used for electrical wiring in homes, buildings, and offices.
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, and 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.
When a non-conductor or dielectric material is placed 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
- Insulators are substances that prohibit the transmission of heat, sound, or electricity. Non-Conductors are materials that prohibit the flow of electric current.
- The term Insulator originated from the Latin word ‘insulate’, which means to isolate. The term Non-Conductor originated from the word ‘electric’.
- Insulators’ synonyms are insulant- for substances, and isolation- for the process. Non-Conductor is also called Dielectric.
- Insulators indicate electrical restriction or obstruction. Non-Conductors indicate the energy-storing capacity of the material.
- 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.
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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.