Properties of Electrical Materials in the FE Electrical Exam

While preparing for the FE Electrical exam, you must not neglect the topics underlining and dealing with the Properties of Electrical Materials in the FE Electrical Exam. From conductors to insulators, magnetic materials to semiconductors, the realm of electrical materials is as diverse as it is captivating.

These materials possess extraordinary traits that allow us to power our homes, revolutionize technology, and make our daily lives easier. Imagine a world without wires conducting electricity or semiconductors fueling our smartphones—quite unimaginable, right?

In this blog, we’ll unravel the secrets behind the properties of electrical materials in the FE electrical exam content and uncover the remarkable use cases of these materials. We’ll explore their conductivity, resistance, magnetism, and much more.

Get ready to uncover the mysteries behind the materials that light up our world and power the innovative technologies shaping our future. So, let’s get charged up and delve into the further details.

Importance of Understanding Properties of Electrical Materials

Understanding the properties of electrical materials is crucial in electrical engineering. Below are five key points highlighting the importance of this knowledge:

  • Conductance and resistivity – Understanding conductance and resistivity helps engineers design efficient electrical circuits. Conductance determines how well a material can conduct electric current, while resistivity quantifies a material’s resistance to the current flow. For instance, copper’s high conductivity makes it ideal for power transmission cables, ensuring minimal energy loss during transmission.
  • Doping and semiconductors – Doping refers to intentionally introducing impurities into a semiconductor material to alter its electrical properties. This process allows engineers to control the material’s conductivity and create electronic devices such as diodes and transistors. For example, silicon-based semiconductors are extensively used in computer chips, enabling the information processing that drives our digital age.
  • Biasing and transistor operation – Understanding biasing is essential for the proper functioning of transistors, which are fundamental components in electronic devices. Engineers can control current flow, amplification, and switching capabilities by applying specific voltage biases to transistors. Transistors play a vital role in various applications, from audio amplifiers in sound systems to microprocessors.
  • Electromagnetic properties – Electrical materials also possess vital electromagnetic properties in various applications. Magnetic materials, such as iron and neodymium, are used in motors and generators, transforming electrical energy into mechanical energy and vice versa. Electromagnetic properties are also crucial in the design of transformers, enabling efficient voltage transformation and distribution.
  • Safety considerations – Understanding the properties of electrical materials is essential for ensuring safety in electrical systems. For instance, knowledge of a material’s thermal conductivity and resistance to high temperatures helps engineers design appropriate insulation for wires, preventing overheating and potential fire hazards. Understanding electrical materials’ properties allows engineers to design efficient and reliable daily-use systems.

By comprehending these aspects, future electrical engineers can not only master the properties of electrical materials for the FE Electrical exam but create innovative solutions.

These modern solutions must optimize energy usage, and improve the performance and reliability of electrical systems, ultimately enhancing our daily lives in areas ranging from power generation and distribution to consumer electronics and communication networks.

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Applications of Electrical Material Properties in Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering is built upon a foundation of carefully chosen materials. From the power lines humming outside your window to the intricate circuits within your phone, each component relies on specific material properties to function effectively. 

Understanding these properties is not just academic – it’s crucial for designing and building reliable and efficient electrical systems.

Let’s delve into some critical applications where material properties play a central role:

  • Conductors: The backbone of any electrical system, conductors like copper and aluminum efficiently carry current. Understanding a material’s conductivity (σ), measured in Siemens per meter (S/m), is paramount. A high conductivity signifies a material’s ability to allow easy flow of electrons, minimizing energy loss in wires and cables.
  • Insulators: Equally important are insulators, materials like rubber and ceramics that impede current flow. Their resistivity (ρ), the reciprocal of conductivity, is a critical property. A high resistivity ensures minimal leakage current across unwanted paths, preventing electrical shorts and ensuring safety.
  • Semiconductors: The workhorses of modern electronics, such as semiconductors like silicon, exhibit conductivity that can be manipulated. Doping, the controlled introduction of impurities, allows engineers to tailor the conductivity of semiconductors, making them ideal for building transistors, the building blocks of integrated circuits.
  • Magnetic Materials: Electromagnetism forms the basis for transformers, motors, and generators. Materials like iron and steel exhibit high permeability (μ), allowing them to concentrate magnetic fields. Conversely, some materials possess low permeability, making them helpful in shielding sensitive electronic components from unwanted magnetic fields.

Engineers can optimize designs for specific applications by considering factors like conductivity’s temperature dependence or the dielectric strength of insulators (the maximum electric field an insulator can withstand). 

For example, high-voltage power lines require conductors with excellent conductivity at high temperatures, while capacitors need insulators with exceptional dielectric strength to prevent breakdown.

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Electrical Properties of Materials

Electrical properties and their implications are a crucial part of your preparation for the properties of electrical materials in the FE electrical exam. This includes conductivity, resistivity, and dielectric properties.

1. Conductivity

Conductivity measures a material’s ability to conduct electric current. It is defined as the reciprocal of resistivity (ρ) and is denoted by the symbol σ (sigma). Conductivity is influenced by factors such as the number of free charge carriers (electrons or ions) and their mobility within the material. It is calculated using the formula:

σ = 1/ρ

It is typically measured in Siemens per meter (S/m) units or mho per meter (℧/m).

For instance, you want to calculate the conductivity of a material with a resistivity of 2.5 ohm-m.

The formula to calculate conductivity is σ = 1/ρ. Given that the resistivity (ρ) is 2.5 ohm-m, we can substitute this value into the formula:

σ = 1/2.5 = 0.4 S/m

Therefore, the material’s conductivity is 0.4 Siemens per meter (S/m).

2. Resistivity

Resistivity is a fundamental property of materials that quantifies their resistance to the flow of electric current. It is denoted by the symbol ρ (rho) and is determined by the material’s intrinsic characteristics, such as its atomic structure and temperature. Resistivity is calculated using the formula:

R = ρ  (L/A)

R is the resistance, ρ is the resistivity, L is the length of the material, and A is its cross-sectional area. Resistivity is typically measured in units of ohm-meters (Ω·m).

For instance, you want to determine the resistivity of a wire with a length of 10 meters, a cross-sectional area of 2 square millimeters, and a resistance of 5 ohms.

The formula to calculate resistivity is R = ρ * (L/A). Given that the length (L) is 10 meters, cross-sectional area (A) is 2 square millimeters (which needs to be converted to square meters), and resistance (R) is 5 ohms, we can calculate the resistivity (ρ) as follows:

A = 2 mm^2 = 2 * 10^(-6) m^2

ρ = R * (A/L) = 5 * (2 * 10^(-6)) / 10 = 1 * 10^(-6) ohm-m

Therefore, the resistivity of the wire is 1 * 10^(-6) ohm-m.

*By using the reciprocal of this formula, you can directly find the conductivity as it is the reciprocal of resistivity.

3. Dielectric Strength

Dielectric strength refers to the maximum electric field an insulating material can withstand without electrical breakdown. It measures the material’s ability to resist the current flow under an applied electric field.

Dielectric strength is typically expressed in volts per unit thickness units, such as kilovolts per millimeter (kV/mm) or volts per mil (V/mil).

For instance, a dielectric material has a dielectric strength of 15 kV/mm. You want to determine the maximum voltage that can be applied across a 2 mm thick material sample without causing an electrical breakdown.

Given that the dielectric strength is 15 kV/mm and the thickness of the material (d) is 2 mm, we can calculate the maximum voltage (V_max) using the formula:

V_max = dielectric strength * Thickness

V_max = 15 kV/mm * 2 mm = 30 kV

Therefore, the maximum voltage that can be applied across the 2 mm thick sample without causing electrical breakdown is 30 kilovolts (kV).

Understanding these electrical properties is crucial for various engineering applications, such as designing efficient conductors, selecting appropriate insulating materials, and optimizing the performance of electrical systems.

These simple properties and their formulas enable engineers to calculate and analyze these properties, aiding in designing and optimizing electrical components and systems.

Semiconductors and Diodes

Semiconductors have electrical conductivity between the conductor (such as metals) and insulators (such as non-metals). Their bandgap characterizes them as the energy difference between the valence band (where electrons are tightly bound to atoms) and the conduction band (where electrons are free to move and conduct electricity).

Semiconductors are crucial components in modern electronics, forming the foundation of devices such as diodes, transistors, and integrated circuits. The most commonly used semiconductor material is silicon (Si), but other materials like germanium (Ge) and gallium arsenide (GaAs) are also used in specific applications.

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N-Type and P-Type Semiconductors

N-Type and P-Type Semiconductors

Semiconductors can be classified into two types based on the impurities added to the material, a process known as doping. Doping introduces impurity atoms into the semiconductor crystal lattice, either to increase the number of free electrons (n-type) or to create “holes” (absence of electrons) where electrons can move (p-type).

N-Type Semiconductor

In an n-type semiconductor, the dopant atoms introduce extra valence electrons into the crystal lattice, creating an excess of negatively charged particles (electrons). The common dopants used for n-type doping are elements like phosphorus (P) or arsenic (As).

P-Type Semiconductor

In a p-type semiconductor, the dopant atoms replace some of the host atoms in the crystal lattice, creating “holes” or vacancies where electrons can move. This effectively introduces excess positively charged particles (holes) in the material. Common dopants used for p-type doping include elements like boron (B) or gallium (Ga).

Here is a tabular representation of the differences between n-type and p-type semiconductors:

PropertyN-Type SemiconductorP-Type Semiconductor
DopantPhosphorus (P) or Arsenic (As)Boron (B) or Gallium (Ga)
Charge carriersExcess of free electronsExcess of holes
ConductivityHigh electrical conductivity (due to abundant electrons)Lower electrical conductivity (due to fewer electrons)
Doping processAdding a pentavalent impurity to the crystal latticeAdding a trivalent impurity to the crystal lattice
Majority carriersElectronsHoles

Doping Process

Doping is a crucial process in semiconductor manufacturing, as it allows the control and manipulation of the electrical properties of the material. The two main doping methods are:

N-Type Doping

It involves adding impurities with extra valence electrons (pentavalent) to the semiconductor crystal lattice. For example, adding elements like phosphorus or arsenic to silicon.

These impurity atoms have five valence electrons, and when they replace some of the silicon atoms, four of these electrons bond with neighboring atoms, while the fifth electron becomes a free electron.

P-Type Doping

It involves adding impurities with fewer valence electrons (trivalent) to the semiconductor crystal lattice. For example, adding elements like boron or gallium to silicon.

These impurity atoms have only three valence electrons, and when they replace some of the silicon atoms, three of their valence electrons bond with neighboring atoms, creating a “hole” in the fourth bonding site. Electrons can move between adjacent holes, creating the appearance of a positive charge carrier.

*Silicon and germanium are intrinsic semiconductors, meaning they have a balanced number of electrons and holes at room temperature. However, they can also be doped to create P-type or N-type semiconductors by introducing impurities.

P-N Junction Diode

A diode is a two-terminal electronic component that allows current to flow in one direction while blocking it in the opposite direction. It is formed by joining a p-type semiconductor with an n-type semiconductor, creating a p-n junction.

Formation of P-N Junction

When a p-type and an n-type semiconductor are brought into contact, the excess electrons in the n-type region and the excess holes in the p-type region diffuse across the junction due to the concentration gradient.

This diffusion process continues until equilibrium is reached, resulting in a region near the intersection with no free-charge carriers called the depletion region.

The p-n junction forms a potential barrier that prevents the free electrons from the n-type region and the holes from the p-type region from crossing the intersection.

This barrier acts as a diode, allowing current to flow from the p-side (anode) to the n-side (cathode) when the diode is forward-biased but blocking current flow in the reverse bias condition.

P-N Junction Diode as On and Off Switches

P-N Junction Diode as On and Off Switches

Forward Bias

In forward biasing, the positive terminal of a voltage source is connected to the p-side (anode) of the diode, and the negative terminal is connected to the n-side (cathode).

This applied voltage reduces the potential barrier, allowing electrons from the n-side and holes from the p-side to cross the junction and combine in the depletion region. This creates a low-resistance path, and current flows through the diode.

Reverse Bias

In reverse biasing, the positive terminal of a voltage source is connected to the n-side (cathode) of the diode, and the negative terminal is connected to the p-side (anode).

This applied voltage increases the potential barrier, widening the depletion region and preventing current flow across the junction. The diode acts as an open circuit in this condition and blocks current flow.

Importance of Diodes

Diodes are fundamental components in electronic circuits and have numerous applications, including:

  • Rectification – Converting alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) by allowing current flow in only one direction.
  • Signal Modulation – Controlling the amplitude or frequency of signals in communication systems.
  • Voltage Regulation – Stabilizing and maintaining a constant voltage level in power supplies.
  • Switching – Acting as on/off switches in digital logic circuits and computer systems.
  • Protection – Safeguarding electronic components from voltage spikes and overvoltage conditions.

Eager to discover more? Learn more about digital logic circuits and their mathematical aspect in our detailed guide about Discrete Mathematics in the FE Electrical exam.

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Magnetic Properties of Materials

This topic also includes fundamental importance regarding the properties of electrical materials in the FE electrical exam. It further helps the electromagnetism study we will also discuss in the following sections.

Let’s start with some of the integral magnetic properties of materials.


Permeability is a fundamental property of materials that describes how easily an applied magnetic field can magnetize them. It is denoted by the symbol μ (mu) and is measured in units of Henrys per meter (H/m) or Tesla meters per ampere (T·m/A).

Permeability is a crucial property in various applications involving magnets and magnetic fields. Some examples include:

  • Transformers – Magnetic materials with high permeability are used in the cores of transformers to enhance energy transfer efficiency.
  • Inductors – Permeable materials are employed in inductors to increase the strength of the magnetic field produced.
  • Magnetic shielding – Materials with high permeability, such as mu-metal, create shields that redirect and absorb magnetic fields, protecting sensitive equipment from interference.
  • Magnetic recording media – Materials with specific permeability characteristics are used for data storage in magnetic tapes, hard drives, and magnetic cards.

Magnetic Permeability

Magnetic permeability can be categorized into three types:

Vacuum Permeability (μ0)

Vacuum permeability, also known as the magnetic constant or the permeability of free space, is the permeability of a vacuum or free space. It is denoted by μ0 and has a value of approximately 4π × 10^(-7) H/m. Vacuum permeability is a fundamental constant of nature and appears in various equations related to magnetism.

Relative Permeability (μr)

Relative permeability is a dimensionless quantity representing the ratio of a material’s permeability to a vacuum. It indicates how much a material can be magnetized compared to a vacuum. Materials with a relative permeability greater than one are considered paramagnetic or ferromagnetic, while those with less than 1 are diamagnetic.

Magnetic Susceptibility (χm)

Magnetic susceptibility measures the degree of magnetization of a material when subjected to an external magnetic field. It is denoted by χm and is related to the relative permeability (μr) by the equation χm = μr – 1.


Hysteresis refers to the phenomenon where the magnetization of a material lags behind the applied magnetic field due to its magnetic history. It is commonly observed in ferromagnetic materials.

Hysteresis is essential in various applications, including:

  • Magnetic memory devices – Hysteresis enables storing and retrieving information in magnetic hard drives, where the presence or absence of magnetic domains represents binary data.
  • Magnetic sensors – Hysteresis can be utilized in sensors, such as Hall effect sensors, to detect the presence and strength of magnetic fields.
  • Magnetic relays and switches – Hysteresis creates latching mechanisms in relays and controls, allowing them to remain in a particular state even after removing the applied field.

Hysteresis Loop

Hysteresis is often represented graphically by a hysteresis loop, which shows the relationship between the magnetic field strength (H) and the magnetic flux density (B) of a material as the applied magnetic field is varied.

The hysteresis loop exhibits several key characteristics:

  • Saturation – At high magnetic field strengths, the material becomes saturated and further increases in the applied field but do not significantly increase in magnetization.
  • Remanence – After removing the applied magnetic field, the material retains a residual magnetization known as remanence (Br).
  • Coercivity – The coercive force (Hc) represents the magnitude of the applied field required to reduce the material’s magnetization to zero. It indicates the material’s resistance to demagnetization.
  • Energy loss – The area enclosed by the hysteresis loop represents the energy dissipated as heat during a complete magnetization cycle, known as hysteresis loss.

Properties of Electromagnetism

Electromagnetism is a branch of physics that deals with the relationship between electric and magnetic phenomena. The importance of electromagnetism cannot be overstated.

It underlies the functioning of modern technology, including power generation and distribution, telecommunications, electronics, and many aspects of physics and engineering.

Understanding and harnessing electromagnetism has revolutionized our world, enabling advancements in communication, transportation, medicine, and numerous other fields. Electromagnetism encompasses several fundamental aspects and unique properties.

Let’s discuss some key points to understand material properties concerning electromagnetism.

Electromagnetic fields & their Relations – Static electric charges produce electric fields, while magnetic fields are generated by moving or changing electric fields. These fields are interrelated and propagate as electromagnetic waves perpendicular to each other through space.

Electromagnetic induction – A changing magnetic field induces an electric field, as discovered by Faraday and summarized by Faraday’s law of electromagnetic induction. This principle forms the basis for the generation of electric power in generators and the operation of transformers.

Electromagnetic force – Electric and magnetic fields exert forces on charged particles. This force is responsible for the interaction between charged particles, the operation of electric motors, and the behavior of particles in particle accelerators.

Electromagnetic radiation – Electromagnetic waves, such as radio waves, microwaves, visible light, X-rays, and gamma rays, are forms of energy that travel through space at the speed of light. They play a vital role in communication, imaging, and various scientific applications.

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Thermal Properties of Materials

Thermal Conductivity

Thermal conductivity measures a material’s ability to conduct heat. It quantifies the heat transfer rate through a material when a temperature difference exists across it. The thermal conductivity of a material is denoted by the symbol λ (lambda) and is expressed in units of watts per meter per Kelvin (W/m·K).

Materials with high thermal conductivity efficiently transfer heat, while materials with low thermal conductivity are good insulators. Some examples of high thermal conductivity are metals like copper and aluminum, while materials like wood and air have low thermal conductivity.

Coefficient of Thermal Expansion

The coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) measures the change in dimensions of a material in response to a change in temperature. It quantifies how much a material expands or contracts when heated or cooled. The CTE can be expressed in terms of linear expansion or volumetric expansion.

Linear Expansion (α)

Linear expansion measures the change in length of a material along a specific dimension due to temperature changes. The coefficient of linear expansion, denoted by α (alpha), represents the change in length per unit length per degree Celsius (or Kelvin). The formula gives it:

ΔL = α * L0 * ΔT


  • ΔL is the change in length,
  • L0 is the original length,
  • ΔT is the temperature change.

Volumetric Expansion (β)

Volumetric expansion measures the change in the volume of a material due to temperature changes. The coefficient of volumetric expansion, denoted by β (beta), represents the change in volume per unit volume per degree Celsius (or Kelvin).


ΔV = β * V0 * ΔT

  • ΔV is the volume change,
  • V0 is the original volume,
  • ΔT is the temperature change.

It is related to the coefficient of linear expansion as follows:

β = 3α

This relationship shows that the volumetric expansion coefficient is three times linear for isotropic materials (materials that expand uniformly in all directions).

For instance, a solid cube has a linear expansion coefficient (α) of 2.5 x 10^-5 per degree Celsius. We can calculate the volumetric expansion coefficient (β) for the cube.

As we have,

Linear expansion coefficient (α) = 2.5 x 10^-5 per degree Celsius

We need to find the volumetric expansion coefficient (β).

We know that the relationship between β and α is β = 3α.

Substituting the given value:

β = 3 * (2.5 x 10^-5).


β = 7.5 x 10^-5 per degree Celsius.

Therefore, the volumetric expansion coefficient (β) for the cube is 7.5 x 10^-5 per degree Celsius.

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Now you have a clear idea about the importance of the properties of electrical materials in the FE exam. From the magnetic properties that enable the design of transformers and magnetic storage devices to the thermal properties that impact heat transfer and expansion, these characteristics shape the performance and behavior of electrical systems.

It is recommended to master all the aforementioned aspects of the properties of electrical materials for the FE electrical exam preparation. Preparing for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is your first step towards a professional journey and deepening your knowledge.

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Don’t miss the opportunity to enhance your understanding of electrical materials and boost your chances of passing the FE exam. Visit Study for FE today and embark on a path toward success in your engineering journey. Take the first step and invest in your future now!


Licensed Professional Engineer in Texas (PE), Florida (PE) and Ontario (P. Eng) with consulting experience in design, commissioning and plant engineering for clients in Energy, Mining and Infrastructure.