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Answer: A circuit is a closed path or loop that is needed for electricity to flow. Electricity flows when a circuit is closed (that is, the circle is complete), and will not flow when a circuit is open. You can access a circuit-building activity experiment on our website here.

Answer: California condors almost went extinct because they have a slow rate of reproduction and many adult condors were killed through contact with power lines. Condors have a nearly 10-foot wingspan, making it easy for them to bridge between two power lines or to touch a power line and pole at the same time—both of which can be deadly. Learn more about how a training program that taught condors to avoid power poles in the World of Wires section of this website.

Answer: Climbing a tree near a power line is super dangerous! I’m afraid you’ll need to stop climbing your favorite tree, and find a new one to climb that is located far away from power lines. To learn more about this, read the section on the dangers of trees and powerlines on this website.

Answer: You were lucky enough to be dealing with a well-designed copier and only an inch of water. Assuming the wall outlet was well above the waterline and the power cable and plug were dry, you were in no danger. The blue spark you saw was an arc between the outlet socket and the copier plug caused by the current trying to jump the gap and complete the circuit. Evidently the machine was properly insulated, so there was no way for an inch of water to get into it and cause a short circuit. However, if the water level had been higher and had caused a short in the machine, or if the cord had been wet, you could have been electrocuted when you pulled the plug. The correct first thing to have done would have been to switch off the copier, using an insulating object like an eraser to push the switch as an extra precaution, so that current no longer flowed through the machine. Only then would you unplug it at the wall.

Answer: One lightning strike can carry 100 million to 1 billion volts of electricity. That’s the equivalent of your being hooked up to between 8 and 80 million car batteries! Although the chances of getting struck by lightning aren’t terribly high, you do not want to risk it. You can read about lightning shock survivor Carissa here on this site. Carissa was lucky in that she wasn’t paralyzed or killed!

Answer: Conductors are materials through which electricity travels easily. Water and metal are good conductors, which is why you should avoid using electricity near water. It’s also why you should stay far away from metal objects and bodies of water during a lightning storm: if lightning strikes nearby, water and metal can conduct electricity right through you! “Insulators” do the opposite thing from conductors—they insulate from (or block the flow of) electricity. You can read more about conductors and insulators here.

Answer: Some 120-volt plugs have two vertical prongs and a round one centered below them. The left prong is neutral, the right prong is hot, and the round one is the ground. The prongs on a plug fit into the slots in a wall outlet. Electricity flows in a circuit, so the appliance you plug into an outlet completes the circuit from the hot slot to the neutral slot, and electricity flows through and powers whatever you plug in. The ground prong connects to a wire that is grounded, or connected with the earth.

It’s actually the breaker box on the side of your house that prevents fires and short circuits, because it detects electricity overloads and flips the breaker to open the circuit. But here’s where the ground prong comes in. Because metal conducts electricity, every appliance with a metal casing (including computers, power tools, electronics, and most appliances) should have a three-prong plug for safety. The casing is directly connected to the ground prong, so if electricity escapes from the wiring inside, it will flow straight through the breaker box into the earth (instead of energizing the metal parts of the device). This will trip the breaker in the breaker box, so the appliance stops working instead of delivering an electrical shock to whoever is using it.

Answer: Another student named Will asked this question a while back – if you click on See More Questions at the bottom of this page you can find it. But for convenience, I’ve provided my answer again.

Shoes hanging on a power line don’t get burned for the same reason that birds standing on a power line don’t get shocked: they don’t give electricity a path to the ground, so electricity stays in the line and does not go through them. But if the shoes were to touch a power line and a power pole at the same time, they would provide a path to the ground and would get blasted with electric current. It wouldn’t be pretty!

By the way, if you ever see someone throwing shoes up onto a line, tell them to stop! The shoes can damage the power line, or someone trying to get the shoes down could be seriously shocked or even killed.

Answer: Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are created around appliances and wires wherever a voltage exists. Significant research has been conducted internationally over the last 40+ years to evaluate the potential health impacts of EMF exposure. There is no definitive answer as to whether EMF exposures cause adverse health effects. After reviewing more than two decades of research in this area, scientists from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) concluded that the evidence supporting EMF health risks was weak, but still sufficient to warrant limited concern due to a possible weak association between increasing exposure to EMFs and an increased risk of childhood leukemia. In general, they concluded that studies conducted on adult exposures do not support a link between residential EMF exposure and adult cancers.

A 2007 World Health Organization (WHO) report concluded that evidence for a link between magnetic fields and childhood leukemia is not strong enough to be considered a cause, but it’s sufficiently strong to remain a concern. For all other diseases, the WHO classified the evidence of health effects at low exposure levels as inadequate. For more information, visit

Answer:If a power cable falls on or near your car, do NOT try to get out. You are safest inside the car. Call 911 and STAY IN THE CAR until utility workers tell you to exit. Warn other people in the area to stay far away from the car. Anyone who touches the car or even comes close to it could be severely injured or even killed.

If you must get out due to fire or other danger, use a car door that is free of anything in contact with the ground (such as a tree or fire hydrant), and take these steps:

  1. Jump clear without touching the car and the ground at the same time. Be careful not to fall back against the car. If you touch the car and the ground at the same time, electricity will travel through you!
  2. Avoid any wires on the ground.
  3. Land with your feet together and shuffle away with small steps, keeping your feet close together and on the ground.

Answer: First of all, never put water on an electrical fire! If a fire starts at a wall outlet or an electrical appliance, ask an adult to cut power at the circuit breaker or turn off the main switch. Call 911, give them your address, and tell them it’s an electrical fire. If the fire is small, have an adult use your home CO2 fire extinguisher to put out the fire. If the fire is large, everyone should leave the house immediately.

Answer: Always assume any downed wire is energized and dangerous, and stay far away! Do not touch the wire or anything in contact with it, such as a tree branch, a fence, or even a puddle of water. Call 911 and tell the operator it’s an electrical emergency.

Answer: Electricity is measured in terms of amperage, voltage, and wattage. Amperage (amps for short) is a measure of the amount of electricity used. Voltage (volts) measures the pressure or force of the electricity. The amps multiplied by the volts give you the wattage (watts), a measure of the work that electricity does per second.

Think of it this way: Electricity flowing through a wire is like water flowing through a garden hose. The amount of water that can fit through the hose depends on the diameter of the hose (amps). The pressure of the water depends on how far open the faucet is (volts). The amount of work that can be done (watts) depends on both the amount and the pressure of the water (volts x amps = watts).

Answer: A live tree conducts electricity because of its sap and water content. As I hope you know from reading this site, water is an excellent conductor of electricity. Remember, never climb trees near power lines—you can get seriously hurt! You can read more about water’s conductivity in our How Electricity Can Hurt You section at

Answer: A pickle is a conductor of electricity for two reasons: first, it is very juicy, which means it has a high water content, and second, it has a high salt content. Salt, which consists of sodium and chloride ions, enhances the conductivity of water considerably.

Answer: A substation receives high-voltage electricity from transmission lines and reduces the voltage to levels that can be carried over distribution power lines. Learn more about substations in the Travels of Electricity section of this website:

Answer: The atomic process starts with the splitting of uranium atoms in a nuclear reactor. Also known as nuclear fission, this process can be used to create heat that converts water into steam at a nuclear power plant. The steam then drives turbine generators to produce electricity. Voltage is a measure of the force of electricity, so one could say that through a long process, the splitting of atoms produces an electrical force measured as volts.

Answer: As long as you get out of the car after the lightning strike is over, nothing should happen! The car’s body is made of metal, and it will have conducted the electrical charge from the lightning into the ground. It makes no difference to your safety whether the engine is running or not. But the voltage of the lightning is so high that it may have damaged the outside of the car—scorching paint and fusing side mirrors. In newer vehicles, the computer chips in the engine control systems may be destroyed. If you’re caught driving in a thunderstorm, you should pull over to the side of the road and sit with your hands in your lap, not touching door or window handles, radio dials, the gearshift, or the steering wheel—which are all things that contain metal and are connected to the outside of the car. That way you’re sure not to get shocked if the car does take a hit.

Answer: Condors are a kind of vulture and they eat only animals that are already dead (carrion). Like other vulture species, they have mostly bald heads and down-curving beaks. Their feathers are black with white patches on the undersides of the wings. They’re impressive, but not exactly pretty!

The California condor is the biggest bird native to North America, and one of the rarest, with a nearly 10-foot wingspan. Because of their enormous wingspan, condors are at great risk of contacting power lines and being shocked and killed by them. Read more about this, and how condors came close to going extinct toward the end of last century, in the World of Wires section of our website here:

Answer: Most likely, nothing much—which is the same as what happens when lightning strikes a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle. The bodies of electric cars, like those of gas-powered ones, are made of metal. The metal forms what’s called a Faraday cage, after the British electromagnetism pioneer Michael Faraday, who invented it back in 1836. A Faraday cage conducts any electricity that connects to it all around the space it encloses, protecting anything inside from harm. The glass in the car’s windows doesn’t conduct electricity, so the current from the lightning strike just flows right around them through the body and safely down into the ground. There’s a catch, though—it’s been reported that electric vehicles hooked up to a charging station do suffer some damage to their internal sensors and batteries if struck. So if anyone in your family is the proud owner of an all-electric vehicle and there’s a storm warning, remind them to unhook from the charger.

Answer: No human is responsible for inventing energy, as it already existed in the natural world in various forms long before we came on the scene. The whole universe is made up of matter and energy, and energy comes in multiple forms. But perhaps you are asking who figured out how to harness energy for human purposes? If so, there is no one person who did this, but rather many inventors who contributed to our ability to use energy for things like lighting our streets and buildings and powering our machines. See the Pioneers of Electricity section on our website for a look at some of these figures.

Answer: There are two sides to this issue. Some feel that government incentives for electric vehicles (EVs) are unfair because the general population is asked to subsidize the few who own and drive EVs through taxation. On the other hand, some feel that the government should subsidize EVs because everyone benefits from reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as more and more gasoline-powered vehicles are replaced by EVs. Various ways in which governments subsidize electric vehicles include offering grants to EV manufacturers, offering rebates to EV buyers, and giving carpool access to EV drivers.

Answer: The discovery of electricity happened in stages and across many centuries. Ben Franklin is commonly attributed with having an important role, but his chief contribution was to prove in 1752 that small electrical sparks were the same thing as lightning. Way back in 600 BC, however, the ancient Greeks found that rubbing fur across a hardened tree resin called amber caused an attraction between the two. This was static electricity. Archeological digs from ancient Persia have found devices that appear to have been ancient batteries meant to produce light. In 1600 William Gilbert first used the Latin word “electricus” to describe the force that certain substances exert when rubbed against each other. In 1831 Michael Faraday created a basic generator that made it possible to generate electricity in a more sustainable way than batteries. You can read more about some of electricity’s progenitors in the Electrical Safety-SMART!/Tell Me More section of this site here:

Answer: If you witness lightning striking the ground near you, you are not safe, and you should definitely NOT try to run for it! When lightning hits the ground, the current spreads along the surface to a depth of a few inches. Anyone nearby can be injured. Plus, another lightning bolt may be coming your way, and if you are upright you will make a good target. Your safest bet is to squat down with your feet together and stay there until the storm has passed. Keep your hands over your ears to prevent damage to your hearing. Better yet, don’t get caught outdoors in a lighting storm in the first place! If a storm is coming, get indoors and stay there for at least 30 minutes after you hear the last thunder. For more lightning safety tips, please visit Electrical Safety Foundation International.

Answer: In this situation we are experiencing static electricity, or the buildup of electric charges on an object. Electric charges are carried by electrons. When we shuffle our feet on the carpet, we are rubbing electrons off the carpet and onto our body. When we then touch a metal doorknob, for example, the extra electrons jump from our body to the metal, making a spark.

Answer: The best ways to save electricity will vary according to where you live, your current energy use habits, and whether you have an electric or gas heating system, clothes dryer, water heater, and/or range. For most people, lowering the thermostat on their heat in winter and using less air conditioning in summer are the best ways to save energy. Other ways to save include line drying your clothes (because electric clothes dryers use a lot of electricity) and reducing the temperature on your water heater. Check out our Home Energy Guide for more ways to save:

Answer: This is a fundamental law of physics, the branch of science that explores the nature and properties of energy and matter. It says that in a closed system, the amount of energy is fixed and cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be converted from one form into another. Pretty much everything in the universe obeys this law.

Answer: This seems to be a popular question! As I explained to Matthew in one of the earlier questions below, most electricity in this country is produced at power plants where fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) or renewable energy sources (such as water, wind, biomass, or geothermal) are used to turn turbines. The turbines turn electromagnets that are surrounded by heavy coils of copper wire. The moving magnets cause the electrons in the copper wire to move from atom to atom, generating electricity. Electricity can also be produced from sunshine, using special panels that convert sunlight into electricity. You can see these panels on the rooftops of many Southern California homes, businesses, and warehouses.

Answer: Yes, an earthquake can be dangerous. Most people who are injured during earthquakes are hit by falling or flying objects. You will be more likely to stay safe if you drop, cover, and hold on: DROP to the ground, COVER by getting under a sturdy desk or table, and HOLD ON to it until the shaking stops. If you’re in bed, stay there and protect your head with a pillow. If you’re outdoors, drop to the ground in a spot that is away from buildings, trees, and power lines. If you see a fallen wire after an earthquake, stay far away and call 911 to report it.

Answer: Southern California Edison (SCE) provides gas only to its customers on Catalina Island, using an underground network system that is connected to a customer’s service line and meter. For our customers on the mainland, SCE provides only electricity.

Answer: Rubber is an insulator, which means electricity does not flow easily through it. People who work around electricity may wear boots and gloves made from special rubber designed to protect them from electrical shock in case they contact electricity. This is not the same kind of rubber used in the athletic shoes or boots you might wear. So even if you are wearing rubber shoes, you could still be seriously hurt or even electrocuted if you contact electricity. Always be careful around electric power lines, appliances, and equipment—no matter what kind of shoes you have on!

Answer: Power lines are specifically designed to carry electricity without heating up, so they are not hot enough to turn raindrops into steam. And a single raindrop, or even a lot of raindrops falling close together, do not provide a continuous path for electricity to travel through–so the electricity just keeps moving through the wires. However, a continuous stream of water could provide a path for electricity to travel through. This is why you should never aim a high-powered water squirter or hose at a power line. Electricity could travel from the line, down through the water, and into you!

Answer: Electricity is generated in power plants, where various energy sources, such as fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) or renewable energy sources (water, the sun, wind, biomass, or geothermal), are used to turn turbines. The turbines turn electromagnets that are surrounded by heavy coils of copper wire. The moving magnets cause the electrons in the copper wire to move from atom to atom, generating electricity. Solar panels offer another method for generating electricity. In a solar power system, photovoltaic panels absorb the sun’s energy and convert it directly into electricity.

Answer: Water has multiple dangers, but since this is an energy website, I’ll focus on water’s dangers when combined with electricity. As you’ll see in the Electricity and Water section of this site, water is a good conductor of electricity, and it is dangerous to mix the two. Using any plugged-in appliances around water (such as blow-dryers, radios, and shavers) increases your risk of electric shock. So does shooting high-power water squirters at power lines. Check out the section on water and electricity at

Answer: Electricity is generated in power plants, where various energy sources, such as fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) or renewable energy sources (water, the sun, wind, biomass, or geothermal), are used to turn turbines. The turbines turn electromagnets that are surrounded by heavy coils of copper wire. The moving magnets cause the electrons in the copper wire to move from atom to atom, generating electricity.

Answer: SCE provides electricity to its customers generated by the following fuel types: 27 percent natural gas; 24 percent nuclear; 19 percent eligible renewables (solar, wind, small hydroelectric, biomass, and geothermal); 8 percent coal; and 7 percent large hydroelectric.

Answer: Energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are made of glass tubes that are filled with gases (argon and mercury vapor) that produce invisible ultraviolet (UV) light when stimulated by electricity. So if one of these bulbs breaks, the gases escape. In this situation, it’s a good idea to open doors and windows for 15-30 minutes to air out the room.

Answer: Yes, you could get electrocuted from touching a plug while you are wet or touching water. To be safe, never assume that any sort of insulating material will protect you, and always use electrical cords and appliances far away from water.

Answer: Yes, never touch a power line under any circumstances. If you see a downed power line, immediately call 911 and tell the operator that you have an electrical emergency. Keep others away from the power line and wait for an electric utility representative. Only they can tell you when it’s safe. If you touch a power line, you will become the electricity’s path to get to the ground, which electricity always seeks. Although some power lines may appear insulated, the coating on them will not protect you from electrical shock or electrocution. So remember, never ever touch a power line!

Answer: Shoes tossed over electric lines don't catch on fire for the same reason that birds sitting on power lines don't catch on fire. If the shoes are not touching the ground or anything in contact with the ground, the electricity will stay in the power line. If you see shoes hanging from a power line do not try to remove them. Just call the electric company and they will use special tools to safely remove them. It is never a good idea to throw shoes (or anything else) up onto a power line.

Answer: Birds can sit on power lines and not get electric shocks because the electricity is always looking for a way to get to the ground. The birds are not touching the ground or anything in contact with the ground, so the electricity will stay in the power line. But if a bird with large wings touches a power line and a tree or power pole at the same time, it gives electricity a path to the ground, and could be shocked. And if a bird touches two wires at once, it will create a circuit—electricity will flow through the bird and likely electrocute it.

Answer: Electricity is always looking for the easiest path to the ground. So if you contact electricity from a power line, or even from an electrical appliance like a toaster or hair dryer, electricity will use YOU as its path to the ground and you will be shocked or electrocuted. Electric shock can cause muscle spasms, a rapid pulse, severe burns, weakness, shallow breathing, unconsciousness, or even death. Learn how to prevent this by visiting the rest of this website.

Answer: If you think about it, you'll realize that our modern lives would practically come to a standstill without electricity. For starters, we use it to bring light to our homes, schools, and workplaces; to heat and cool our buildings; to power our manufacturing equipment, appliances, and other electrical devices like music players and TVs; and to communicate through phones and computers. Things would be pretty dark and quiet without electricity!

Answer: A regular incandescent light bulb is hot to the touch because over 90% of the electricity that flows into it is lost as heat. The rest of the electrical energy is converted to light when it heats up a wire inside the light bulb called a filament. The filament is made of tungsten, a metal that stays solid at very high temperatures. When the tungsten heats up, it glows and emits light through the bulb. By contrast, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are energy efficient because they waste very little electricity as heat, and thus most of the electricity passing into them goes to producing light. This is even more the case with the newer, most efficient, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, like those used for holiday lighting.

Answer: Yes! Electricity always takes the easiest path to the ground. So if you touch a power line while you are standing on the ground or anything that is touching the ground (such as a ladder or a tree), electricity will travel through you. You could be seriously hurt or even killed.

Answer: Shoes hanging on a power line don’t get burned for the same reason that birds standing on a power line don’t get shocked: they don’t give electricity a path to the ground, so electricity stays in the line and does not go through them. But if the shoes were to touch a power line and a power pole at the same time, they would provide a path to the ground and would get blasted with electric current. It wouldn’t be pretty!

By the way, if you ever see someone throwing shoes up onto a line, tell them to stop! The shoes can damage the power line, or someone trying to get the shoes down could be seriously shocked or even killed.

Answer: Yes! An electric eel uses chemicals in its body to manufacture electricity. A large electric eel can produce a charge of up to 650 volts, which is more than five times the shocking power of a household outlet.

Answer: One lightning strike can carry up to 30 million volts—as much electricity as 2.5 million car batteries.

Answer: Neither! In the wires of an electrical circuit, the electrons are always jiggling around. When a circuit is closed to run an appliance or a light bulb, the electrons jiggle a lot and travel through the wire. When the circuit is open, all the electrons just jiggle where they are—kind of like running in place.

Answer: Ben Franklin’s famous key did give off an electric spark. But lucky for Franklin, the kite was just drawing small electrical charges from the air. If the kite had been struck by lightning, Franklin might have been seriously injured or killed!