The Battle of Conventional Flow and Electron Flow



The concept of electricity has been studied for centuries. Way before modern day technology sprung into its exponential climb, there was one way to interpret current. This was called the electron flow model.

Electron Flow Model

This model of analyzing current within a conductive material (typically a copper wire) is dependent on how the subatomic particles migrate. Electrons usually prefer moving from a higher state of energy to a lower state of energy instead of the other way around. Another way to say this: electrons move from higher potential to lower potential. This potential is possible through an energy source, which in today’s technology can be anywhere from batteries to complex power supplies.

Conventional Flow Model

After technology had grown and our understanding had increased, it was clear that there was another way to conceptualize current. Instead of being concerned with the flow of electrons, one can think of current traveling based on higher voltage to lower voltage. This is the same thing as a higher potential to lower potential, except the idea was that the positive side of the battery was “pushing” the higher voltage on that side of a circuit causing current to flow in the opposite direction compared to the electron flow model.

Here is a diagram to show a comparison between models:

Which One is Right?

The answer to the question is they both are correct. The answer will depend on which method the analyzer uses. A person who decides to use the electron flow model will have equal but opposite answers to a person who uses the conventional model. The only thing to mention is to stick with one model when analyzing, otherwise the answers will be all over the place and will cause confusion. I would recommend sticking with the conventional model for a few reasons: somehow it is easier to understand (probably because of using assumptions that everything starts in a clockwise fashion), most datasheets seem to use the conventional model, and certain technologies are easier to understand in conventional (diodes and transistors in particular).