Unless you’re a musician or vocalist who plays or sings only acoustically – never recording or using any sound reinforcement or lighting – then electricity has an impact on your life and art. At the root of electricity is a subatomic particle called the “electron,” which is a negatively charged component of an atom that can also move freely through space.
The electron is a type of particle known as a “lepton,” which, along with quarks, belong to the fermion family of particles. These particles are believed to be the fundamental items in nature, as they cannot currently be broken down into smaller component parts. Though the idea of an atom as a core surrounded by electrically charged particles dates back to Richard Laming in the mid-1800s, the electron was first suggested in 1874 by Irish physicist G. Johnson Stoney, given the name “electron” by Stoney in 1894, then recognized as a subatomic particle by J.J. Thompson at Cambridge Universty in 1897. The electron’s charge was first measured in 1909 by physicist Robert Anders Millikan during his famous oil-drop experiment. In 1924, French physicist Louis de Broglie suggested that matter can have both wave and particle properties – the basis for quantum theory and quantum mechanics – which was later demonstrated using a beam of electrons.
Electrons orbit the nucleus of the atom, and are responsible to one degree or another for various magnetic, electrical, thermal, optical, chemical, and other properties of matter. (In fact, it is partially the repulsion of electron to electron that makes materials “solid.”) Electric current consists of a flow of free electrons in a conductor or semi-conductor.
Though our interactions with electricity give us the impression that it “moves” almost instantaneously, electric current/electron flow happens at a quite slow rate of speed, along the line of millimiters per second for DC current in copper wire, or about 1/10th the speed of light (approximately 186,000 miles per second) in a near vacuum. Electromagnetic waves, however, travel at the speed of light in a vacuum, and near the speed of light in the air and in unshielded cables. In a coaxial cable, electromagnetic waves travel at around 125,000 miles per second.
Do not worry, the speed of electron flow is not a source of latency in the average recording rig.