What Is the Movement of Electrons?

movement-electrons ERIC HELLER/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Every atom is made up of a nucleus surrounded by electrons that orbit the nucleus. Electrons orbit the nucleus because they are attracted to the protons inside of the nucleus while simultaneously repelled by the other electrons.

Electrons have a negative charge, and protons have a positive charge. Electrons orbit the nucleus in various ways. Some electrons on the outermost fringes of the atom can break away, moving around the space between all of the other atoms.

Conductors are essentially made from atoms with electrons that can break away from their orbit. When electricity flows through a conductor, the energy is transferred by electrons jumping from one atom to another. This movement demonstrates that not all electrons are tied down to an individual atom; electrons can move freely. The behavior of electrons that do orbit a nucleus can vary greatly.

Scientists have different names for the various kinds of orbital patterns that electrons may take. These different orbits are usually referred to as energy shells. The energy shell with the lowest amount of energy is the closest orbit to the nucleus, and by contrast, the energy shell with the higher amount of energy is farther away from the nucleus. Only two electrons can flow in one shell or orbit, but they must be flowing in opposite directions.

Scientists also use wave equations to describe the orbital paths of electrons. The different types of orbitals are designated by four lower case letters: s,p,d and f. Each orbital has its own characteristics. For instance, an s orbital looks spherical and a p orbital resembles the shape of a dumbbell. Orbitals are represented by a three dimensional shape rather than a line, as electron flow is difficult to predict due to random movement. The three dimensional shape encompasses all of the possible variations of an electron's orbital pathway.