Why do electrons flow from lower potential to higher potential?

Expert Answers
sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The electrons move from lower potential to higher potential because the current was historically said to flow from the higher potential to the lower potential.  

Back in Ben Franklin's time, nobody knew things like protons and electrons existed with opposite charges.  All that was known was that something moved along a wire, a charge of some kind.  And it was thought that charge would move like water, from an area where there is lots to one where there is less.  High to low.  Positive to negative. Modern day physicists and electricians continue this illustration of current flow, more or less as a way of honoring Franklin and early pioneers of the field.  All current is drawn as moving from positive to negative, even though that is NOT what is happening with the electrons.  

Once it was discovered that protons and electrons existed, it was realized that electrons fit the existing rules.  They move from where there are lots of them to where there are less of them.  High to low. But because historically all circuits were labeled with positive to negative being high to low, the movement of electrons is shown as low to high.  This is because there are more electrons on the negative terminal and they move toward the positive. So while current looks like it's going high to low (positive to negative), the actual electrons are moving from negative to positive (low to high). 

electreto05 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Electrons can move by the action of the electric force, or the magnetic force. In the case of the electric field, it is established, by covenio, that regions around the positive charges are considered high potential, and regions around the negative charges, low potential.

Since electrons are negative they should be repelled by the negative charge and attracted by the positive charge, that is, in an electric field the electrons must move from regions of low potential to the regions with high potential by the action of the electrical forces.

In a battery, the chemical process separates the positive and negative charges so that a concentration of positive charges on the positive pole and a concentration of negative charges in the negative occurs. When the battery is connected to a circuit, an electric field is created inside the wires and electrons (the only ones that can move in metals) are repelled from the negative pole (region of low potential) and attracted by the positive (region of high potential).

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question