A conductor is a material that allows electrons to freely flow through it, thus seeing energy transfer from one end to the other. In contrast to this, an insulator is a substance that does the exact opposite of this and does not allow for electrons to flow through it.
Where an electrical charge is sent through a conductor it hits one of the free electrons that is in it and does this all the way through the material in order to create a charge all the way through. This is thanks to the atomic structure that the conductor has, which lets free electrons move around and from one to another.
The vast majority of metals are conductors, although some are better than others – with copper being one of the best. For this reason, it is used in power cables. Types of conductors include none metallic ones, plasmas, electrolytes, and semi conductors.
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Electrons are not able to freely flow in these substances and so impede the flow of an electric charge. This is because they are made up of certain atoms which keep hold of their electrons extremely tightly, thus stopping them flowing from one to the other. Where a substance has these properties, it is used for the purpose of protecting from the dangers of electricity.
Examples of insulators include substances such as rubber, paper, ceramics, plastic, and glass – although there are in fact many more. For this reason, electrical copper wires are covered in a rubber coating so that they can be handled without causing an electric shock. This is a possible risk as the human body is a good conductor of electricity.
Whereas conductive materials are able to proactively anticipate the flowing of electrical current due to the free flowing electrons that are inside of them, insulative substances do not allow for electrical current to pass through them as they do not allow for the freeing flow of electrons.
A conductor easily passes on energy in either the form of heat or electricity. Insulators have no ability to transfer energy and in fact, resist electricity. The reason why electricity easily passes through conductors is due to the free moving electrons that are present inside of them. Contrast this to an insulator where electricity is unable to pass through.
It is usually the case that conductors have a resistance that is very low. Where the material is a super conductor then the resistance could actually be zero. Contrast this to insulators which have a very high resistance to electrical charge. This is why conductors conduct and insulators insulate.
The wire inside of an electrical cable is a conductor whilst the rubber on the outside of it is an insulator.
It is highly possible that touching a conductive material that is live will kill you, whereas if you were to touch an insulator that was also live, you do not have to worry about being hurt at all because there is no electrical current in it.