Why Are Metals Good Conductors?

Different metals are often employed for various applications because they are known for being good conductors of both heat and electricity. All of the appliances that we find in our homes and workplaces, such as kettles and computers, use metal for one reason or another. But why are they such good conductors? How does it all work?

Generally, atoms will tightly hold onto their electrons, not allowing them to move very much (if at all). In metal, however, atoms hold onto their electrons more loosely, allowing some of them to even be free moving. This is because the electrons form a metallic bond of sorts with each other, creating a moving sea vibrating electrons. They drift aimlessly through the metal, helping to give it it’s various properties, including strength.

Electrical conductivity

This term refers to a metal’s ability to conduct an electrical current, such as in a refrigerator or television. The outer electrons of the atoms are loosely bonded and are free to move through the material. When an electrical current is applied to a metal, it causes the free moving electrons to flow, which allows the current to pass through and be moved on.

Thermal conductivity

This term, on the other hand, refers to a metal’s ability to conduct heat, such as in a toaster or heater. The electrons nearest the heat source begin to warm up, causing them to vibrate fairly fast. In colliding with the cooler, slower moving electrons around them, the hot electrons transmit this heat energy on. Metal is such a good conductor of heat because their electrons are packed so closely together, allowing the vibrations to be passed on very quickly.

Metals are quite often cool to the touch, causing many people to believe that they are actually good conductors of cold, not heat. This, however, is a common misconception – metals are able to quickly absorb heat from their surfaces, including from human skin. It is this loss of heat that causes metal surfaces to feel cold underneath our hands.

When people ask why metals are good conductors of both heat and electricity, the short answer is because of the way their electrons are able to freely move around. To fully get into the specifics of how each element is effectively conducted by different alloys, you would probably have to attend physics classes in order to understand the processes. Having a basic understanding, however, should be enough to show why metal is so useful.