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How Batteries Work

Anatomy of a Battery

Take a look at any battery, and you'll notice that it has two terminals. One terminal is marked (+), or positive, while the other is marked (-), or negative. In normal flashlight batteries, like AA, C or D cell, the terminals are located on the ends. On a 9-volt or car battery, however, the terminals are situated next to each other on the top of the unit. If you connect a wire between the two terminals, the electrons will flow from the negative end to the positive end as fast as they can. This will quickly wear out the battery and can also be dangerous, particularly on larger batteries. To properly harness the electric charge produced by a battery, you must connect it to a load. The load might be something like a light bulb, a motor or an electronic circuit like a radio.

The internal workings of a battery are typically housed within a metal or plastic case. Inside this case are a cathode, which connects to the positive terminal, and an anode, which connects to the negative terminal. These components, more generally known as electrodes, occupy most of the space in a battery and are the place where the chemical reactions occur. A separator creates a barrier between the cathode and anode, preventing the electrodes from touching while allowing electrical charge to flow freely between them. The medium that allows the electric charge to flow between the cathode and anode is known as the electrolyte. Finally, the collector conducts the charge to the outside of the battery and through the load.

On the next page, we'll explore how the cathode, anode, electrolyte, separator and collector work together to produce an electrical current and keep your portable devices going strong.

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