Conduction of Electricity in Gases

Electricity travels when a means of conductivity is provided.

Gas Conductivity

Toy electrode balls work by running electricity through conductive gas sealed inside.
For instance, water and metal are conductors. Both allow electrical currents to travel through their molecules. Humans, mostly made of water, are conductors to grounding out, which is why electrocution injuries are often deadly. Wood and plastic, on the other hand, don't work so well. Certain gases also allow electricity to jump or "arc" through molecules to reach connection points. In some cases, some of this behavior is useful for tools and illumination. .

Most gases don't enhance electrical conductivity. Many gas atomic structures don't have enough electrons for the electricity to jump through via atomic connections. However, when gas molecules are ionized by an initial charge, then the contained gas is much more conductive. Such artificial ionizing is implemented by using an attached electrical generator.


Electrical conductivity through gas was first studied in the early 19th century by Humphry Davy. Scientists such as Nikola Tesla also used arcing as means to develop additional inventions driven by electricity and manipulation of conductivity in gas. Most modern gaseous conductive needs are associated with industrial products and equipment.

Electricity, Gas and Arcs

An arc occurs when a current jumps from one point to another with the use of a conductive gas. The gas is often contained in a way that also encapsulates the two points. Otherwise, the gas would dissipate. By controlling the current with the type of gas used, the conductivity intensity of the electricity is turned into a tool. Common examples of such manipulation are seen in neon lamps, tools used for welding or burning and furnace systems.

Erratic vs Smooth Conductivity

If left to itself, electricity passing through a gas will jump to the next electron that connects the link. As a result, arcing from one electrode to another looks very similar to lightning. The electrical current is erratic, jagged and connects the current line to whatever works within the gas. When the electrical current is contained in a uniform manner, the arcing appears much smoother. Neon lamps for instance light up in a uniformed manner as electricity passes through the gas inside the lamp tubes.

About the Author

Since 2009 Tom Lutzenberger has written for various websites, covering topics ranging from finance to automotive history. Lutzenberger works in public finance and policy and consults on a variety of analytical services. His education includes a Bachelor of Arts in English and political science from Saint Mary's College and a Master of Business Administration in finance and marketing from California State University, Sacramento.