Electric current

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Electric current


Current or electric flow Iel is the advancement of charge per unit of time, expressed in the SI base unit ampere [C·s-1 = A]. Electrons or ions are the current-carrying motive entities of electric flow. Electrons e- are negatively charged subatomic particles carrying 'negative electricity' with a mass that is about 1/1700 of the smallest particle — the proton — carrying 'positive electricity' (Thompson 1906). Correspondingly the velocity of electrons is much higher than that of protons or any other (larger) ion. Current is the velocity v of paticles times the number of motive charges. Therefore, electron current Ie- is of a different nature from electric current Ielχ carried by all species i of ions Xi (cations and anions) summarized as χ = Σ(zi·Xi). Whereas Ie- is the net translocation of electrons moving forwards and backwards, Ielχ is the net translocation of charges carried by different cations and anions. In contrast, ion current IelX of a specific ion X is the partial translocation of charges carried by net translocation of ion X only. If cation current IelX+ is antagonized entirely by counterion current IelY- as the process of antiport, then the electric current Ielχ is zero. The (net) electric current in a compartmental system is driven by the electric force ΔelFp+ or electric potential difference ΔΨp+, whereas a compensated ion/counterion antiport current is insensitive to the electric potential difference.

Abbreviation: Iel [A = C·s-1]; [mol·s-1]; [x·s-1]

Reference: Gnaiger 2020 BEC MitoPathways

Communicated by Gnaiger E (2020-12-02) last update 2020-12-30

Canonical comments on IUPAC definitions in the context of charge

Charge of the proton versus charge per proton

Proton charge is the elementary charge e [C·x-1], which is charge per count of protons.
QelQelp+ [C]
eQNp+ = Qel·Np+-1  [C∙x-1]
The distinction of charge of particles versus charge per single particle is not made sufficiently clear by IUPAC, when defining "-e is the charge of an electron" — it must be corrected to "-e is the charge per electron".
For comparison, the name "charge density of electrons" is used by IUPAC with symbol ρ [C·m-3]. Dividing ρ by the count concentration of electrons [x·m-3], we obtain the unit [C·x-1] for the electron charge. Therefore, electron charge (or proton charge) is clearly the charge per particle.

Ambiguity of QB

IUPAC (Cohen 2008 IUPAC Green Book) defines the charge number as
IUPAC:  zB = QB·e-1
Therefore, QB = zBe. The subscript in QB indicates per elementary entity B. This is opposite to the subscript in VB as the symbol for the volume of a substance of type B (e.g. VO2 [L]). For consistency with this convention, the symbol QelB or QelX [C] is used for indicating charge of a substance of type B or X, distinguished from particle charge as the quantity of charge per elementary entity X with symbol QNX [C∙x-1]. To avoid too long and multiple subscript levels, QNX is used instead of QUX, and the ‘el’ is dropped from QelNX. The particle charge QNH+ per hydrogen ion is identical to the definition of the elementary charge e. Therefore, the charge number of the hydrogen ion is zH+ = QNH+/e = 1. In summary:
zB = QNB·e-1
QNB = QelB·NB-1 [C∙x-1]


» charge QelX
» charge number zX
» electrochemical constant f
» elementary charge e
» Faraday constant F
» hydrogen ion versus proton
» iconic symbols
» motive entity
» particle charge QNX


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Table Physical constants.png

Normalization of charge and iconic symbols
Iconic symbols show the quantity, the format of the normalization in the subscript (N, n, e), and the entity specified in the subscript (X). The normalized quantities are per X. In the quantities QelX, NX, nX, VX, mX, the subscript X without attachment to a format indicates the quantity of X.
Quantity Unit Normalized for quantity Unit Iconic symbol Unit Practical symbol Quantity
charge QelX [C] / count NX [x] = QNX [C·x-1] particle charge (IUPAC: QB)
charge QelX [C] / amount nX [mol] = QnX [C·mol-1] charge number times Faraday constant
charge QelX [C] / volume VX [m3] = QVX [C·m-3] ρel charge density
charge QelX [C] / mass mX [kg] = QmX [C·kg-1] specific charge
count NX [x] / charge QelX [C] = NeX [x·C-1]
amount nX [mol] / charge QelX [C] = neX [mol·C-1]
volume VX [m3] / charge QelX [C] = VeX [m3·C-1] ρel-1
mass mX [kg] / charge QelX [C] = meX [kg·C-1]


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Bioblast links: SI base units - >>>>>>> - Click on [Expand] or [Collapse] - >>>>>>>
Entity, count, and number, and SI base quantities / SI base units
Quantity name Symbol Unit name Symbol Comment
elementary UX elementary unit [x] UX, UB; [x] not in SI
count NX elementary unit [x] NX, NB; [x] not in SI
number N - dimensionless = NX·UX-1
amount of substance nB mole [mol] nX, nB
electric current I ampere [A] A = C·s-1
time t second [s]
length l meter [m] SI: metre
mass m kilogram [kg]
thermodynamic temperature T kelvin [K]
luminous intensity IV candela [cd]
Fundamental relationships
» Avogadro constant NA
» Boltzmann constant k
» elementary charge e
» Faraday constant F
» gas constant R
» electrochemical constant f
SI and related concepts
» International System of Units
» elementary unit x
» SI prefixes
» International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, IUPAC
» entity
» quantity
» dimension
» format
» motive unit
» iconic symbols


  1. Gnaiger E (2020) Mitochondrial pathways and respiratory control. An introduction to OXPHOS analysis. 5th ed. Bioenerg Commun 2020.2 - »Bioblast link«
  2. Thompson JJ (1906) Carriers of negative electricity. Nobel lecture 1906-12-11.

MitoPedia concepts: Ergodynamics 

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