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Dr. Universe: How does electrical power travel through metal?

A string of shining Christmas lights on the floor.
The United States is known for expending more electricity on just Christmas lights than the whole country of El Salvador uses in an entire year.

It can take a lot of power to make those holiday displays twinkle and shine. In fact, the United States is known for expending more electricity on just Christmas lights than the whole country of El Salvador uses in an entire year.

But how do we humans get electricity from place to place? For the last 150 years or so, it turns out people have relied mainly on metal.

To learn more about how electricity travels through metal wires and circuitry, the fictional feline Dr. Universe talked with Bob Olsen, a professor emeritus in the Washington State University School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Olsen said to get electricity from power plants to houses, we have to use a system that doesn’t fade out. It also needs be efficient, which means it can carry power from one place to another without losing very much energy.

Metals are good conductors, which means electricity flows through them easily. Most power lines use aluminum and copper. Copper is a bit better conductor than aluminum, but aluminum is lighter — which is important because we don’t want power lines to sag toward buildings or people.

Find out more on the Dr. Universe website.

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