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I understand the electrons in circuit travel down the path of least resistance, however are electrons attracted by the emission of virtual photons emitted by a source with relatively low electron concentration or positively charged? Thus, relating this to a battery in a circuit, does an anode (in electron-flow notation) emit an electrostatic potential force that attracts electrons, aside from the path of least resistance?

I am a bit new to physics, so if my question seems silly or wrong, please explain why.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you make a picture of what you mean? $\endgroup$ – Rol Jul 29 '15 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ I have no idea what this question is asking - what do virtual photons have to do with the anode? $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Aug 8 '15 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ I think the question here is what mechanism allows the electrons to "know" there is a positive terminal at a distance toward which they should be moving. $\endgroup$ – user10851 Aug 9 '15 at 10:03
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Do anodes emit virtual photons representing their positive electrostatic potential?

No. Virtual photons aren't real photons. There's this lie-to-children popscience myth that they're short-lived real photons that pop into existence like magic, but they aren't. They are abstract things used in QED to model interactions. If you think about an electron and a proton, you know that they attract one another. You also know that the hydrogen atom doesn't have much in the way of an electromagnetic field. So you can say that the electron and proton have "exchanged field". Virtual photons are field quanta. They're like little abstract chunks of field being exchanged as the electron and proton move towards one another. They aren't real photons. Hydrogen atoms don't twinkle, and magnets don't shine.

Have a look round for more on this, see for example this question and this article by Matt Strassler: "The best way to approach this concept, I believe, is to forget you ever saw the word 'particle' in the term. A virtual particle is not a particle at all".

are electrons attracted by the emission of virtual photons?

No. They're attracted by something that's positively charged, such as a proton. But this isn't emitting virtual photons. It just has an electromagnetic field that's the opposite of the electron's electromagnetic field.

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There exist two frameworks in which to look at how fields and interactions appear:

a) when talking of elementary particles and their interactions it is the quantum mechanical framework; this is the underlying framework from which emerges

b) the classical mechanics and electrodynamics framework. The classical emerges smoothly in a computable way.

An anode is a large dimensional item, and belongs to the classical framework. The enormous number of individual atoms that make up this solid are reordered in the collective fields imposed, so that the positive charge of the nuclei predominates and in their zillions create a classical positive electric field in the anode.

Electrons can be viewed within both frameworks, statistically in this case. The current in a circuit is generated by the small drifts of individual electrons within the conductor. The path of least resistance comes out from the statistical way one can explain this, still within a classical framework, and this integrates over the forces the electrons see when they drift..

To start talking of virtual photon exchanges one has to go to an individual electron interacting with an individual atom, i.e. write a Feynman diagram which is the only place that virtual photons exist: they are a mathematical tool in the computation of the probability of the electron interacting with the atom's spill over positive field.

The zillions of Feynman diagrams needed if one tried to treat the motion of the electron towards the anode ( the surface has zillions of atoms) in the quantum mechanical framework, are a futile effort, since we know that the classical treatment emerges mathematically from the quantum one, is simpler and sufficient.

as far as the title:

Do anodes emit virtual photons representing their positive electrostatic potential?

The answer is "yes" if you are willing to model what happens with Feynman diagrams, as I stated above.

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