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Have you ever wondered why shoes hanging on a power line don’t get fried? Or why natural gas flames are blue? Now you can get answers to these and all your energy-related questions. Just Ask an Expert!

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NEW! Is there a camp that you can go to learn about electricity? ’Cause if there is, can you please tell me, so I can go there to learn more about electricity? I am in love with electricity.
—Holly H.

Answer: Holly, we love electricity, too! Duke Energy sponsors several energy education centers and programs where you can learn more about electricity. You can find them here. In addition, you and your parents can find many camps and workshops online that teach about electricity through STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). If you study about electricity in high school and college, you may decide to become an electrical engineer and have a career designing and working with electrical equipment and systems. If you do, come see us at Duke Energy. Maybe we can work together!

NEW! How many volts will it take to kill you instantly?

Answer: Carter, this is a tough question with no simple answer. The effects of an electrical shock vary tremendously, and whether a shock will kill someone—or merely injure them—depends upon many factors: the voltage, the amperage, how long someone is in contact with the source of the electricity, where electricity enters the body, and where a person is standing, to name just a few. Even the low-voltage electricity that you use in your home can be deadly to contact under certain circumstances. You can learn more about the effects of electrical shock in the How Electricity Can Hurt You section of this website, here.

NEW! How did Benjamin Franklin get electricity in the jar?

Answer: Franklin’s kite twine was gathering small charges of static electricity from the air. In a letter he wrote on October 19, 1752, describing directions for his kite experiment, Benjamin Franklin said: “When rain has wet the kite twine so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it streams out plentifully from the key at the approach of your knuckle, and with this key a phial, or Leyden jar, may be charged.” (Electric fire is what Franklin called electricity.) This was a very dangerous experiment, and some people who tried to copy it were electrocuted when their kites were struck by lighting. Remember: NEVER, EVER fly your kite in a lightning storm!

NEW! How was electricity invented?

Answer: Electricity wasn’t invented. It has been part of the natural world from the beginning of time in the form of static electricity, lightning, and even electric eels! Many people contributed to the discovery of electricity and how it works, including English physicist William Brown, American Benjamin Franklin, Italian Luigi Galvani, and many others around the world. Many more people have invented the equipment that allows us to use electricity safely, such as Alessandro Volta’s battery, Michael Faraday’s electric motor, and Thomas Edison’s light bulb, to name a very few. You can learn more about these and other electricity pioneers here.

NEW! How do so many people use electricity at the same time???

Answer: It’s mind-boggling when you think about it, isn’t it? Our electricity comes from hundreds of big electric power plants all over the country that are powered by coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear energy, along with smaller generation facilities powered by wind, water, solar, biomass and geothermal energy. Together these power plants generate hundreds of millions of watts of electricity, and they do it constantly, night and day.

The power plants are all connected together in a system called the electrical grid. Utility companies, the companies that distribute electricity to homes and businesses in their regions, work together to ensure that electric power flows wherever it is needed across this grid. Utilities that are generating more power than their customers need at the moment pass it to other utilities that aren’t generating quite enough. That’s how so many millions of us get to use electricity at once.

Is there a location people can go to learn how energy moves?

Answer: You’re in luck, Holly! Duke Energy sponsors quite a few energy education centers and programs that you can participate in to deepen your learning about how energy works. Learn more about them here.

I was wondering if someone can explain how a Shock Pen works. I opened one up and did some research. From what I understand, there is a battery supply and an induction coil. I don't understand how this setup works, or what it needs to work properly.

Answer: A safe shock pen has three essential components: one or more batteries (usually AAA); an induction coil that serves as a transformer of the current from the battery; and a device, usually a transistor, that causes the current to switch on and off very rapidly. The induction coil (a much smaller version of the spark coils used in auto ignition systems) converts the output from the battery to a much higher voltage by way of electromagnetic induction. Basically, the current from the battery creates an electromagnetic field in the coil, which stores its energy. When the current is interrupted by the transistor (think of it as a tiny switch), the magnetic field in the coil abruptly collapses. That sends a pulse of electric current into the circuit—which is what causes the shock. The transistor flips again and the process repeats itself. This happens many times a second for as long as the circuit is open and current is flowing. In the case of the pen, the circuit only stays open for as long as the person holding it is holding down the “clicker.”

What is the average cost to power a school?

Answer: School energy costs vary widely and depend on many factors: the size of the school; whether it is open year round or just during the fall, winter, and spring; the age of the buildings; the type of fuel used for heating and cooling; fuel costs; and local weather patterns. This makes it difficult to come up with an accurate average school energy cost. If you would like to learn how much it costs to power your school, ask your principal. She or he should be able to tell you how much your school spends for energy in a typical year.

What is a typical day like at your job?

Answer: When I’m not running my index finger across the pages of a thick book with a red cover, you’ll find me sitting in front of my computer. Every morning, I check my email for new questions from students about electricity or natural gas. Answering these questions quickly is my top priority, so if I can’t answer a question off the top of my head, I research it online or call someone with expertise in the topic, such as an electrical engineer or a natural gas geologist. After I finish with student questions I work with a team of writers, researchers, and designers to develop booklets, videos, and websites that teach people how to live and work safely around electricity and natural gas.

How do energy and matter relate?

Answer: The great scientist Albert Einstein showed that matter is basically organized energy. All matter is made of atoms, which consist of incredibly tiny little bits of energy called quanta. (One of them is called a quantum.) Every atom has a nucleus at its center, which includes two kinds of quanta, protons and neutrons. Around this nucleus are spinning even tinier quanta called electrons.


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