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Electric current

An electric current is a flow of electric charge. In electric circuits this charge is often carried by moving electrons in a wire. It can also be carried by ions in an electrolyte, or by both ions and electrons such as in a plasma.

The SI unit for measuring an electric current is the ampere, which is the flow of electric charge across a surface at the rate of one coulomb per second. Electric current is measured using a device called an ammeter.

Electric currents cause Joule heating, which creates light in incandescent light bulbs. They also create magnetic fields, which are used in motors, inductors and generators.

The particles that carry the charge in an electric current are called charge carriers. In metals, one or more electrons from each atom are loosely bound to the atom, and can move freely about within the metal. These conduction electrons are the charge carriers in metal conductors.

The conventional symbol for current is I, which originates from the French phrase intensité de courant, meaning current intensity. Current intensity is often referred to simply as current. The I symbol was used by André-Marie Ampère, after whom the unit of electric current is named, in formulating the eponymous Ampère's force law, which he discovered in 1820. The notation travelled from France to Great Britain, where it became standard, although at least one journal did not change from using C to I until 1896.



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