. What is the hum you hear when walking under large power lines?
The electric currents in those lines are reversing 120 times a second in the United States (60 full cycles of reversal, over and back, each second). That means that the electrostatic forces between the charges they carry and anything nearby reverse 120 time a second and the magnetic forces that they exert on one another when currents flow through them turn on and off as well. You hear all of the motions that are caused by the pulsating electric and magnetic forces.
. What is the purpose of the iron core in a transformer?
The iron core of a transformer stores energy as power is being transferred from the primary circuit to the secondary circuit. This energy is stored as the magnetization of that iron. The transformer needs to store that energy for roughly one half cycle of the alternating current or about 1/120th of a second. The more iron there is in the transformer, the more energy it can store and the more power the transformer can transfer from the primary circuit to the secondary circuit. Without any iron, the energy must be stored directly in empty space, again as a magnetization. But space isn't as good at storing magnetic energy as iron is so the iron increases the power-handling capacity of a transformer. Without the iron, the transformer must operate at much higher frequencies of alternating current in order to transfer reasonable amounts of power.
. What makes alternating current alternate?
The pump for alternating current (usually an electrical generator) creates electric fields that reverse their directions 120 times a second (60 full cycles of reversal, over and back, each second). This reversal pushes the current backward and forward through the wires connecting to this power source. The currents direction of flow alternates and so does its voltage.
. When going from 12 volts to 240 volts, is the point that with higher voltage the power transfer proceeds with fewer particles?
Yes. If you use higher voltages, you can transfer the same amount of power with a small current of charged particles. The energy lost in the transmission through wires increases as the square of the amount of current through those wires so reducing that current is very important.
. When you say that a transformer can change a small current with a high voltage into a large current with a low voltage, where do those extra charges come from?
A transformer involves two completely separate circuits: a primary circuit and a secondary circuit. Charges circulate within each circuit, but do not move from one circuit to the other. If the primary circuit of a transformer has a small current flowing through it and that current experiences a large voltage drop as it flows through the transformer's primary coil, then the primary circuit current is transferring power to the transformer and that power is equal to the product of the primary circuit current times the voltage drop. The transformer transfers this power to the current flowing in the secondary circuit, which is an entirely separate current. That current may be quite large, in which case each charge only receives a modest amount of energy as it passes through the secondary coil. As a result, the voltage rise across the secondary coil is relatively small. The power the transformer is transferring to the secondary circuit current is equal to the product of the secondary circuit current times the voltage rise.
. Where does the exact reversal occur in an alternating current circuit (where does the energy diminish completely and then turn the opposite way)?
The reversal of the current in an alternating current (AC) circuit occurs everywhere in the circuit at once. The whole current gradually slows to a stop and then heads backward. At the moment it comes to a complete stop, the electric power company isn't supplying any power at all and the circuit isn't consuming any. Because the power delivery pulses on and off in this manner, devices that operate on AC power are designed to store energy between reversals. Motors store their energy as rotational motion. Stereos store energy as separated electric charge in devices called capacitors, or as magnetic fields in devices called inductors.
. Why are there danger signs around high voltage equipment?
Your body is a relatively good conductor of electricity and it is easily damaged by currents flowing through it. Your body uses electricity to control its functions and an unexpected current of as little as a few hundredths of an ampere can interrupt those functions. In particular, your heart can stop beating properly. Fortunately, your skin is a pretty good insulator so it is hard to get any current to flow through you. But high voltages can push current so hard that it punctures your skin and begins to flow through you. While the current is actually what injures you, the high voltage is what breaks down your protective skin and allows that current to flow through you.
. Why do north and south poles on magnets change back and forth?
Only electromagnets can change back and forth and then only when they are connected to a supply of alternating current. A permanent magnet, such as that used to hold notes to a refrigerator, has permanent poles that do not change. But an AC powered electromagnet, such as that found in a transformer, does have poles that change back and forth.
. Why does a high voltage transformer make ozone?
High voltages involve large accumulations of like electric charges. These charges repel one another ferociously and can leap off into the air near sharp points and edges. They produce sparks and corona discharges. While these discharges are useful in some devices (e.g. copiers and air cleaners), they tend to transfer energy to air molecules and can break up those air molecules. When normal oxygen molecules (which each contain 2 oxygen atoms) break up, the resulting oxygen atoms can stick to other oxygen molecules to form ozone molecules (which each contain 3 oxygen atoms). That is why you can often smell ozone near electrical discharges, high voltage power lines, and after thunderstorms.
. Why does less current flow through a longer wire?
Wires obey Ohm's law: the current flowing through them is proportional to the voltage drop across them. But the precise relationship depends on the wire's length. A short wire will carry a large current even when the voltage drop across it is small because that wire has a small electrical resistance; it does not impede the flow of electricity very much. But a long wire has a large electrical resistance and will only carry a large current if the voltage drop across it is large. If you do not change the source of electrical power (e.g. a battery) and replace short wires with long wires, those wires will not be able to carry as much current.