The Electrical Conductivity of Aluminium Oxide

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Aluminium oxide is a hard and insulating material that can be molded into various shapes and sizes for different applications. For example, it is used to make tiles that are attached inside pulverized fuel lines and flue gas ducting at coal powered power stations to protect areas subject to high wear. It also has a good stiffness-to-weight ratio and is often found as a bearing surface for industrial machines.

Electrically, this metal compound is a poor conductor and that's why it is not used in products such as flashlights. The reason is that electricity travels through the body of a conductor and not along its surface, as is commonly believed. This is because the resistance of a wire (measured in ohms) is proportional to its length and inversely proportional to its cross-sectional area.

Despite this, aluminium oxide does have some unique properties that make it interesting for certain applications. The material is incredibly strong, with a high endurance to corrosion and a low thermal expansion rate, making it well suited for high-temperature applications. In addition, it can be shaped to have excellent abrasion resistant qualities.

Despite these interesting features, it is surprising to find out that the aluminium oxide does not conduct electricity as a solid at normal temperatures. This is due to its insulating structure and Pauli exclusion principle, which dictates that electrons can only occupy the lower energy states of a material's band structure. When the electrons settle in these lowest energy states, they form a characteristic energy level which is known as the Fermi level.

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