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647

18.3 MICROSCOPIC VIEW OF CURRENT IN A METAL: THE FREE-ELECTRON MODEL

Equation (18-3) can be generalized to systems in which the current carriers are not
necessarily electrons, simply by replacing e with the charge of the carriers. In materials
called semiconductors, there may be both positive and negative carriers. The negative
carriers are electrons; the positive carriers are missing electrons (called holes) that act
as particles with charge +e. The electrons and holes drift in opposite directions; both
contribute to the current. Since the concentrations of electrons and holes may be different and they may have different drift speeds, the current is
I = n + eAv + + neAv

(18-4)

In Eq. (18-4), v+ and v are drift speedsboth are positive.

CHECKPOINT 18.3
Two copper wires with different diameters carry the same current. Compare the
drift speeds of the conduction electrons in the two wires.
When we turn on a light by flipping a wall switch, current flows through the lightbulb almost instantaneously. We do not have to wait for electrons to move from the
switch to the lightbulbwhich is a good thing, since it would be a long wait (see Example 18.2). Conduction electrons are present all along the wires that form the circuit.
When the switch is closed; the electric field extends into the entire circuit very quickly.
The electrons start to drift as soon as the electric field is nonzero.

Example 18.2
Drift Speed in Household Wiring
A #12 gauge copper wire, commonly used in household wiring, has a diameter of 2.053 mm. There are 8.00 1028 conduction electrons per cubic meter in copper. If the wire
carries a constant dc current of 5.00 A, what is the drift speed
of the electrons?
Strategy From the diameter, we can find the crosssectional area A of the wire. The number of conduction
electrons per cubic meter is n in the equation for the
relationship between current and drift velocity. Then the
equation enables us to solve for the drift speed.
Solution The cross-sectional area of the wire is

respectable amount of currentbe carried by electrons with

such small average velocities? Because there are so many of
them. As a check: the number of conduction electrons per
unit length of wire is
nA = 8.00 1028 m3 _14 p (2.053 103m)2
= 2.648 1023 electrons/m
Then the number of conduction electrons in a 0.1179 mm
length of wire is
2.648 1023 electrons/m 0.1179 103 m
= 3.122 1019 electrons

A = p r 2 = _14 p d 2
The drift speed is given by
I =
v D = ____
neA

The magnitude of the total charge of these electrons is

3.122 1019 electrons 1.602 1019 C/electron = 5.00 C

5.00 A
______________________________________________
8.00 1028 m3 1.602 1019 C _14 p (2.053 103 m)2

= 1.179 104 ms1 0.118 mm/s

Discussion The drift speed may seem surprisingly small:
at an average speed of 0.118 mm/s, it takes an electron over
2 h to move one meter along the wire! How can 5 C/sa

gia04535_ch18_640-692.indd 647

a Silver Wire

A silver wire has a diameter of 2.588 mm and contains

5.80 1028 conduction electrons per cubic meter. A battery
of 1.50 V pushes 880 C through the wire in 45 min. Find
(a) the current and (b) the drift speed in the wire.

12/4/08 11:37:17 PM