The Big Misconception About Electricity

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Published 2021-11-19
The misconception is that electrons carry potential energy around a complete conducting loop, transferring their energy to the load. This video was sponsored by Caséta by Lutron. Learn more at Lutron.com/veritasium

Further analysis of the large circuit is available here: ve42.co/bigcircuit

Special thanks to Dr Geraint Lewis for bringing up this question in the first place and discussing it with us. Check out his and Dr Chris Ferrie’s new book here: ve42.co/Universe2021

Special thanks to Dr Robert Olsen for his expertise. He quite literally wrote the book on transmission lines, which you can find here: ve42.co/Olsen2018

Special thanks to Dr Richard Abbott for running a real-life experiment to test the model.

Huge thanks to all of the experts we talked to for this video -- Dr Karl Berggren, Dr Bruce Hunt, Dr Paul Stanley, Dr Joe Steinmeyer, Ian Sefton, and Dr David G Vallancourt.

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References:
A great video about the Poynting vector by the Science Asylum: https://youtu.be/C7tQJ42nGno

Sefton, I. M. (2002). Understanding electricity and circuits: What the text books don’t tell you. In Science Teachers’ Workshop. -- ve42.co/Sefton

Feynman, R. P., Leighton, R. B., & Sands, M. (1965). The feynman lectures on physics; vol. Ii, chapter 27. American Journal of Physics, 33(9), 750-752. -- ve42.co/Feynman27

Hunt, B. J. (2005). The Maxwellians. Cornell University Press.

Müller, R. (2012). A semiquantitative treatment of surface charges in DC circuits. American Journal of Physics, 80(9), 782-788. -- ve42.co/Muller2012

Galili, I., & Goihbarg, E. (2005). Energy transfer in electrical circuits: A qualitative account. American journal of physics, 73(2), 141-144. -- ve42.co/Galili2004

Deno, D. W. (1976). Transmission line fields. IEEE Transactions on Power Apparatus and Systems, 95(5), 1600-1611. -- ve42.co/Deno76

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Special thanks to Patreon supporters: Luis Felipe, Anton Ragin, Paul Peijzel, S S, Benedikt Heinen, Diffbot, Micah Mangione, Juan Benet, Ruslan Khroma, Richard Sundvall, Lee Redden, Sam Lutfi, MJP, Gnare, Nick DiCandilo, Dave Kircher, Edward Larsen, Burt Humburg, Blake Byers, Dumky, Mike Tung, Evgeny Skvortsov, Meekay, Ismail Öncü Usta, Crated Comments, Anna, Mac Malkawi, Michael Schneider, Oleksii Leonov, Jim Osmun, Tyson McDowell, Ludovic Robillard, Jim buckmaster, fanime96, Ruslan Khroma, Robert Blum, Vincent, Marinus Kuivenhoven, Alfred Wallace, Arjun Chakroborty, Joar Wandborg, Clayton Greenwell, Michael Krugman, Cy 'kkm' K'Nelson,Ron Neal


Written by Derek Muller and Petr Lebedev
Animation by Mike Radjabov and Ivy Tello
Filmed by Derek Muller and Emily Zhang
Footage of the sun by Raquel Nuno
Edited by Derek Muller
Additional video supplied by Getty Images
Music from Epidemic Sound
Produced by Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev and Emily Zhang

All Comments (21)
  • Haven DeZeeuw
    I’m so glad this video exists. I use to completely not even understand how electricity worked, and now I still don’t.
  • Matt Price
    Mind=Blown
    I have no idea who showed me this or how I discovered it, but if you go underneath the huge transmission lines that you will find in the desert areas surrounding Phoenix, and hold a fluorescent tube style bulb in the air at night, it glows. Actually a lot brighter than you would expect. I always kinda figured this was due to the huge amounts of power running through the lines somehow radiating through the insulation (You actually can hear the lines buzzing and crackling, pretty sketchy actually) but this explanation makes way more sense now.

    Subscribed!!!
  • Minton Miller
    As a ham radio operator, I was taught that RF (radio frequency) travels along the outer skin of the wire. The higher the frequency, the more pronounced the effect. Rf in non-visible (low frequency) light so that works for me. So the surface aria of the wire making up the antenna feedline, or wire antenna makes a difference. Not only the surface aria of the wire, but surface coating of the wire. Electroplate a copper wire with gold, and conductivity and efficiency dramatically improve.

    In practical applications, however, there is a point of deminishing returns with increasing or coating surface arias in efficiency, weight, strength and cost.

    FUN STUFF!!!
  • Jackie Brown
    Hi @Veritasium, I enjoyed the video with the concept of energy flux and the use of electron as "static" media guiding the electromagnetic waves. But how do you explain arcing with the energy flux as arcing is a flux of electron ionizing the ambient air? Or how do you explain electronic components such as transistors triggered by electron flux?
  • Ram Chickedy
    Great video! Not only informationwise but also neat production. Thanks a lot!
  • Steve Watkins
    Awesome video!! Poynting vectors where referenced often by Tom Bearden. John Bedini devices collected this energy from around the wires using sharp gradient impulses of energy, while shutting off the potential source before current could flow and kill the source di-pole. He was able to induce energy into the wire and collect the Poynting vector energy without depleting the source supply. This is an great video that might help pave the way to understand electricity better. And appreciate that there is more going on around the wires than through the wires. And this energy can be engineered to our benefit.
  • ElectroBOOM
    Well well well, stepping into my territory, eh?! I shall make a video about this!!
  • Andrew Briggs
    It is definitely an eye opener to me. Being an EE all my life i will look into this more.
  • Don Evans
    Well, I'm having trouble "visualizing" I guess. I was doing fine right up until I thought about diodes/FET's , well, any semiconductor that ignores magnetic anything. "Diodes" I guess, still constitute a conductor when fwd biased, but I was also taught electrons move quite a bit "microscopically speaking" in semi-conductors. (esp. a reversed biased junction) I see what's been offered in the video, and it definitely is a proof, but no or "extremely little" electron movement?
  • Lovebites
    This is an amazing insight. Thanks!
  • Steven Rogers
    Asking questions about stuff like this used get me in trouble lol. I was so confused by the water in a pipe analogy once I thought about it :P
  • irfan mauludin
    Can you explain about lightning strike using Energy transfer like your explanation in this video? 🙏
  • AT
    The fundamental law of physics: electricity disappear if you stop paying bills.
  • Suzi Grimmer
    Thank you! I asked about this at tech college and got told to leave the class if I was going to ask such stupid questions ;-)
  • Thomas DEBARRE
    There's something I still can't explain. Energy is carried through the electromagnetic field wich is quite logical afterwards but here's my problem : how do you explain that an other device placed in that field doesn't use that energy too. Said differently, if I place a light bulb (not connected to anything) just next to an other one while it's working, why wouldn'it turn on too ?
    The question may seem stupid but I can't give it a clear answer by myself, if someone could enlighten me :)
  • Padmakar J
    What happens to flux when exit? Does it reduces?
  • Tom Herbert
    How would a CT register current if the field carries it around the CT and not thru it? Also, how do you account for wires melting with a short?
  • Linda Watmore
    My grandad was a practical joker when one day at the auctions he bought a wooden box of his knowledge of knowing what it was called me and my siblings because my grandma looked after us during school holidays when my parents were working. He gave me a bar to hold attached to a wire and told me to hold hands with my brothers hands linking us together to give grandma a bar to hold he turned the handle on the box to nothing happened to then asked grandma to hold my hand to make a circle of my siblings holding hands and started to wind the handle to myself and grandma got a shocking experience. He laughed and my grandma really buggered himself laughing at us because we were gullible. Until we created a circle and circuit to no effect from the winding mechanism of it was a party piece of fun for him. I remember when he gave my aunt a rod to hold and wound up the box and she kept saying what does it do, so he stopped winding and gave her the other rod in her other hand and started playing with the box and she shrilled her head off. I was about 7 years old. He collected bygone days tools and gadgets from the past and built a small museum of odd looking objects and tools of various ages in used to stage stalls at fund raising events and parties for people to guess what the objects were and several different items were used to pay for a go to if you guessed correctly you won a prize. The backyard was a place for old farm tools for ploughing and arable tools to old fashioned stage coaches lamps and miners lamps to become a great source of inspiration to crafting skills and older tools and machines.
  • MattMGK
    After watching this video I can confidently say I understand less about how electricity works than I did before.
  • so how do fuses in conductors work, if the energy is flowing outside of the conductor?