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Physics October 20, 2023

Electrical Properties Of Solids- How Does Electricity Move Within?

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The electrical properties of solids are vital in understanding how electricity moves within materials. 

To comprehend this, it’s essential to grasp the fundamental concepts of electrical conductivity, insulators, conductors, and semiconductors.


Materials with high electrical conductivity allow electric charges (typically electrons) to move easily through them. 

Conductors, such as metals (copper, aluminum, silver), have a high density of free electrons in their atomic structure. 

These free electrons are not tightly bound to specific atoms and can move freely in response to an electric field. 

When a voltage is applied across a conductor, electrons drift in a coordinated manner, creating an electric current. 

This is how electricity efficiently moves within conductive materials.


Insulating materials, like rubber, glass, or plastic, have very low electrical conductivity. 

They possess very few free electrons, and the electrons are tightly bound to the atomic structure. 

As a result, insulators do not allow the movement of electric charges, making them excellent for preventing electrical conduction and insulating electrical circuits.


Semiconductors, such as silicon and germanium, have electrical conductivity properties that lie between those of conductors and insulators. 

In a semiconductor, the number of free electrons is relatively low at room temperature, but it can be significantly increased by adding impurities through a process called doping. 

Doping introduces extra free electrons (n-type doping) or “holes” (vacancies for electrons, p-type doping) into the semiconductor’s crystal structure. 

By applying a voltage or changing environmental conditions, the conductivity of semiconductors can be controlled. 

This property is central to the operation of electronic devices like transistors and diodes.

Electron Flow

In conductors and semiconductors, electrons are the charge carriers. 

When a voltage is applied (electric potential difference), electrons drift in response to the electric field created by the voltage. 

This drift constitutes an electric current. The motion of electrons occurs at speeds much slower than the speed of light but is sufficient for practical electrical applications.

Energy Bands

The movement of electrons in solids is also influenced by the concept of energy bands. 

In a solid, the allowed energy levels for electrons are grouped into bands. 

The valence band contains electrons with lower energy, and the conduction band contains electrons with higher energy. 

In conductors, there is a significant overlap between the valence and conduction bands, allowing easy electron movement. 

In insulators, there is a large energy gap between the two bands, making electron flow very difficult. 

Semiconductors have a smaller energy gap that can be manipulated to facilitate or restrict electron flow.

Energy Band Theory

The energy band theory is a fundamental concept in condensed matter physics and solid-state electronics. 

It explains how electrons in a solid material are distributed among various energy levels or energy bands, which helps to understand the electrical and optical properties of materials. 

This theory is particularly relevant when discussing the behavior of electrons in semiconductors and insulators.

Key points of the energy band theory include:

Energy Levels and Bands

In a solid material, atoms are closely packed together, and their electron orbitals overlap, leading to the formation of energy levels or energy bands. 

Instead of discrete energy levels for individual atoms, solids exhibit continuous bands of energy levels. 

The most important bands are the valence band and the conduction band.

Valence Band

The valence band is the energy band closest to the nucleus of the atoms in the solid. 

It contains the highest energy levels that are fully occupied by electrons in the material at absolute zero temperature. 

Electrons in the valence band are tightly bound to their respective atoms and do not contribute significantly to electrical conduction.

Conduction Band

The conduction band is the energy band immediately above the valence band. 

It contains empty or partially filled energy levels. Electrons in the conduction band are not bound to any particular atom and can move freely through the material in response to an applied electric field. 

These mobile electrons are responsible for electrical conduction in the material.

Energy Gap (Band Gap)

The energy gap, also known as the band gap, is the energy difference between the valence band and the conduction band. 

It represents the minimum energy required to move an electron from the valence band to the conduction band. 

Materials with a large band gap are insulators because it is difficult for electrons to jump from the valence to the conduction band. 

Materials with a smaller band gap or overlapping bands are semiconductors or conductors, as they readily allow electron movement.

Influence of Temperature and Doping

The behavior of electrons in energy bands can be influenced by temperature and doping (introducing impurities into the material). 

At higher temperatures, some electrons in the valence band gain enough thermal energy to jump to the conduction band, increasing electrical conductivity. 

Doping can introduce extra electrons or “holes” (vacancies for electrons) into the material, altering its conductivity properties.


The energy band theory is crucial for understanding and designing electronic devices like diodes, transistors, and integrated circuits, which rely on the controlled movement of electrons in semiconductors. 

It also plays a role in explaining the optical properties of materials, such as how they interact with light and photons.

To Summarize

The energy band theory provides a framework for understanding the electronic structure of solids, particularly in terms of how electrons are distributed among energy levels or bands. 

This theory is foundational in the field of solid-state physics and underpins the operation of numerous electronic devices and technologies.

The electrical properties of solids depend on their ability to conduct or insulate electric charges. 

Conductors have abundant free electrons that readily conduct electricity, while insulators have tightly bound electrons that do not allow electrical conduction. 

Semiconductors occupy an intermediate position, with their conductivity controlled by factors like temperature and doping. 

The movement of electrons in solids is influenced by energy bands and electric fields created by voltage, leading to the flow of electric current. 

Understanding these properties is essential for designing and utilizing electronic devices and circuits.

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