In my current job at Spectrum Brands, I manage new product development for toaster ovens and toasters. When I mention this to others, it usually sparks some fun, lighthearted conversation with folks who either ask random questions about these products or want to know what’s next in the world of toasters.
Toasters also tend to be a go-to when people need a random product reference. I’m going to lean into that and use toasters as a way to share some basics about electricity and energy.
I’m a mechanical engineer so electrical engineering has never been my strong suit. I like to see things physically happening and electricity seems more like magic to me. It’s been surprising how much I’ve learned from seemingly simple pros for like a toaster and hopefully you might learn a little as well.
Let’s start today with simply plugging it into the wall. If you live in the US, you are connecting your toaster to 120 volts (V) and the “kind” of electricity called alternating current (AC). We’ll cover voltage tomorrow, but alternating current means that when the toaster operates, the direction that electrons flow through the toaster’s circuit actual alternates back and forth at a certain frequency.
What do I mean by “electrons flow”? You can think of the wires in the toaster as having lots and lots of atoms strung together. Each atom has electrons and these electrons (especially those in the outermost shell) are able to be pushed out of their orbits and shift from one atom to another. This movement of electrons is electricity.
I know you’re probably on the edge of your seat, so check back tomorrow for what happens when you push down the toast lever to start toasting.
If you want some more basics on the science of electricity, check out this article: