Matter & Energy

Matter is composed of atoms or groups of atoms called molecules. The arrangement of particles in a material depends on the physical state of the substance. In a solid, particles form a compact structure that resists flow. Particles in a liquid have more energy than those in a solid. They can flow past one another, but they remain close. Particles in a gas have the most energy. They move rapidly and are separated from one another by relatively large distances.


A conductor allows an electric current to flow through it, but it does not permit the current to flow with perfect freedom. Collisions between the electrons and the atoms of the conductor interfere with the flow of electrons. This phenomenon is known as resistance. Resistance is measured in units called ohms. The symbol for ohms is the Greek letter omega, Ω.

A good conductor is one that has low resistance. A good insulator has a very high resistance. At commonly encountered temperatures, silver is the best conductor and copper is the second best. Electric wires are usually made of copper, which is less expensive than silver.

The resistance of a piece of wire depends on its length, and its cross-sectional area, or thickness. The longer the wire is, the greater its resistance. If one wire is twice as long as a wire of identical diameter and material, the longer wire offers twice as much resistance as the shorter one. A thicker wire, however, has less resistance, because a thick wire offers more room for an electric current to pass through than a thin wire does. A wire whose cross-sectional area is twice that of another wire of equal length and similar material has only half the resistance of the thinner wire. Scientists describe this relationship between resistance, length, and area by saying that resistance is proportional to length and inversely proportional to cross-sectional area.

Usually, the higher the temperature of a wire, the greater its resistance. The resistance of some materials drops to zero at very low temperatures. This phenomenon is known as superconductivity.