If you're considering a new line of work -- or a first line of work -- you could do worse than to become an electrician. It's a highly skilled trade, requiring several hundred hours of classroom instruction before you enter the field. Once there, you'll work as an Apprentice, under the direct supervision of a Journeyman, the next level up. If you enjoy the work and do well at it, you could work your way up to Master. That's the highest and best-paid tier.
Certainly, the job has hazards. Electric shock is the obvious one, but electricians can also be injured in fires started by the electricity they control (or usually do). Falls are also a risk, as some electricians work at heights -- for example, on power poles for public utilities, or in the rafters of theaters and large auditoriums. The upside, of course, is good pay, a job that's always in demand, and the opportunity to work with and master something that's fascinated humans for millennia - electricity.
Do you have what it takes to be a master electrician? We've crafted a quiz to help you find out. Some of the questions are on electricity in general; others are about the specific tools and practices of the job. It might start fairly easy, but don't worry, the questions will get more difficult as you go!
A current is a flow of electricity. Electricians have units of measure that describe its speed, the ease with which it flows or the resistance.
Of course, it's kilocalorie. Technically, what we think of as a "calorie" is actually a thousand calories, a literal calorie being a very small measure of the energy potential of food.
Circuits must be closed to function properly. "Infinite loop" is a term from computer science, not electrician work.
Something that allows current to flow through it easily is called a conductor. "Conductive" is the adjective term. Many metals are great conductors.
Surprised? Silver is actually a better conductor than copper, but copper is much less expensive. Gold ranks third.
Electric current is the movement of charged particles -- almost always negatively charged electrons. Substances with free electrons are "ready to move," in this sense.
Most people, regardless of their line of work, know this. It's important to an electrician's work because water on a job site can be dangerous.
The opposite of a conductive material is an insulating one. "Insulation" takes its name from "insula," the Latin word for "island," and refers to a substance's ability to shield you from electricity.
An electrician might specialize in the field of aviation, shipbuilding, public utility lines, high-speed data cabling and more. But in the theater, an "electrician" is a lighting technician. He or she isn't usually a union electrician who is part of the Apprentice/Journeyman/Master system.
Don't yell at us about the sexism of the term, please, we didn't invent it! Fewer than 3 percent of electricians are female -- which is a shame, because a veteran electrician can make serious bank.
The "volt" is named for physicist Alessandro Volta. "Difference in electrical potential" is a relatively complicated concept, also known as "electrical tension." (Which doesn't clarify much).
Of course electricity can be stored! That's the basic function of a battery, after all.
A drum auger is a plumber's tool. Augers in general are called "drain snakes," and are are used to clear clogs. We probably should have said that an electrician would be VERY unlikely to need this.
"Code" is the term for the set of safety rules that a jurisdiction sets. If you chose "Hoyle," you were probably thinking of the expression "according to Hoyle," which is a figure of speech, and not actually official!
The coulomb is the charge carried by a current of one ampere over one second. It, like most terms in electricity, is named for a scientist, Charles-Augustin de Coulomb.
This is the root of the word "capacitator," a device used in electrical engineering. Capacitance is measured in "farads," named for physicist Michael Faraday.
The term for this is alternating current, or "AC." Most homes are wired in AC.
This might be familiar to you from the band name AC/DC. Who knew metal could be useful in a trivia quiz completely unrelated to music?
Resistance is the difficulty with which electric current flows. So what's the difference between that and insulation? Insulation is inherent to the material; for example, rubber is highly insulative by nature. Resistance changes when the shape of the conducting material is changed -- for example, a thick versus a thin wire.
Fun fact: Neither gold nor diamond are particularly rare. They were first valued for their durability, and eventually became status symbols. Therefore gold, despite its use in jewelry and value as an investment, is still used as a conductor in electronics when tarnishing is a concern.
The word "amperes" is often shortened to "amps." We're not sure how "amped" became a slang term meaning "excited," except that hey, it's got to do with electricity, and that was probably enough.
Superconductivity isn't a phenomenon often found in nature, or everyday engineering. A superconductor requires very cold temperatures, for one thing. Most electricians will never have to deal with one.
The service panel, or "breaker box," is where you go after part of your home loses electricity, to see which circuit was tripped. Then you curse yourself for never adequately labeling the circuits.
It's easy to trip a circuit and then restore it. In fact, if you're going to do repairs on an appliance or replace a lighting fixture, this is a good safety precaution.
A circuit breaker and a fuse serve the same purpose -- they keep current from exceeding a maximum amperage. But fuses melt, whereas circuit breakers "trip" or break the circuit, shutting off the current. They can then can be reset.
This is called an "earth" in other parts of the world. It's an important safety precaution. You don't want to stand in for the ground in an electrical system!
You'll hear this called the "main box" sometimes. The exterior is waterproof, so it won't be harmed by rains.
A voltmeter tests the difference in electrical potential between two points in a circuit. A multimeter has this function, but also might measure resistance or amperage.
Lightning is a grand, highly visible example of static electricity, not electric arc. Arcing is a rarer phenomenon, and a little more complicated to explain.
Electric arc is one of the more complicated concepts in electrical engineering. However, it has its uses -- public streetlamps used to make common use of electric arcing, and movie projectors still do.
A GFCI is a protective device that shuts off current to prevent injury. Receptacle boxes in walls have them, and they should be tested regularly to ensure they're still working properly.
In physics, the terms are sometimes combined as "electromagnetism." At the center of both are the workings of positive and negative poles or charges.
This might be the only area where fashion and electricianship overlap!
This is so you can only insert the plug one way. This way, the prong for the hot and neutral wires are always in the correct place.
This shouldn't surprise anyone, though you might have thought that electricians are safer on the job because of their specialized training. Sadly, this isn't so, according to occupational-safety stats. It underscores the need for good training and refresher courses.