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F44 Topic #20(: Electric Currents and Electric Circuits
Part I: Electric Currents
1. Producing Electric Current
2. Current in Electric Circuits
3. The Ampere and Electric Power
4. Ohm's Law
5. Diagramming Electric Circuits
6. Controlling Current in a Circuit
7. Heating Effect of Electric Currents
8. Transmission of Electric Energy
9. The Kilowatt Hour
Part II: Series and Parallel Circuit
1. Series Circuit
2. Voltage Drop in a Series Circuit
3. Parallel Circuits
4. Applications of Parallel Circuits
5. Series - Parallel Circuits
6. Ammeters and Voltmeters
Notes should include:
Part I: Electric Currents
Producing Electric Current: If two conductors, such as two metal plates, wires, or the contact points on a battery, have a difference in electrical potential between them and are connected to one another by a third conductor such as a piece of copper wire, electrons will flow outwards from the conductor with the higher potential towards the conductor with the lower potential. This flow of electrons is what is referred to as electricity. If, over time, the electrical potential decreases as the electrons flow between the two points, the current will decrease as well. Should the electrical potential difference drop to zero, the electric current will stop. To maintain the electrical potential some sort of "electrical pump" is needed to restore or maintain the electrical potential difference. There are some mechanisms that exist for the purpose of converting other forms of energy to electrical energy. Three such devices are the battery (changes chemical energy to electrical energy), the photo voltaic cell or solar cell (converts light energy to electrical energy), and the electrical generator (turns kinetic or mechanical energy into electrical energy).
Current in Electrical Circuits: An electrical circuit is a path that electricity follows. An electrical circuit is actually a closed loop, that is, you can trace the path and end back where you started. A circuit needs some sort of an "electric pump" as mentioned earlier. Through materials such as wires that conduct electricity this "pump" is connected to a "load" which is a devise that lowers the electrical potential of the flowing electrons, extracting energy from them. Some examples of loads would be light bulbs (often called lamps), motors, and heaters. Any load that reduces the electrical potential of the electrons is said to have electrical resistance. Electrical resistance can be thought of as an "electrical friction" which affects the flow of the electrons. When a current passes through a load, a device that has electrical resistance, the opposing forces, (electrical potential and electrical resistance, cause the electrons to do work. This work is equal to the amount of energy used by the electrical device such as a light, motor, or heater. (In real devices some of the work ends up as wasted energy, because no device has 100% efficiency)
There are two types of current. One type is direct current (DC), which involves electrons flowing through a circuit in only one direction. An ordinary flashlight operated on DC current. The other type of current is alternating current (AC), which involves the frequent reversal of the current flow in cycles. The current you obtain from an ordinary outlet in your home provides AC current. Alternating current has a distinct advantage over direct current in that it can be sent very long distances through large electrical cables without the resistance problems encountered with sending direct current over long distances. In AC current, no individual electron has to travel all that far because of the frequent cycling (60 cycles per second in the U.S., 50 cycles in Europe), while in DC current, each electron would have to make the whole round trip through a circuit.
Another fact about electric current that you must understand is that there are two ways to perceive the flow of electric current. Long before people discovered the electron, they were experimenting with electricity and learning quite a lot about it. At that time it was decided to define electricity as the flow of positive charge. It was only after the dicovery of the electron and the general structure of the atom that people realized that it appears that the electrons move and the positive charges, the nuclei of atoms containing the protons don't. Even though we know that electricity is the flow of the electrons, no one has decided it necessary to drop the older definition. Always be sure that in a specific example you are studying or discussing you are aware of which definition you are thinking about. Though the rules and the equations apply in both cases, the direction of flow and the observed effects might be reversed depending on which definition is being used.
As an example of a load consider a simple DC electric motor, the type that might run off of a battery or DC generator. A simple motor will have two wires attached to it coming from a DC generator. One will allow electrons to enter the motor and will have a high potential, while the other wire will allow electrons to leave the motor and will have a low potential. Suppose that the potential difference between the two wires is 120 V. According to the equation V = W/q, the generator must do 120 J of work on each coulomb of charge that it moves between its terminals. Every coulomb of charge that moves from the negative wire through the motor and on to the positive wire delivers 120 J of energy to the motor.
The Ampere and Electric Power: The unit for expressing electric charge measurements is the Coulomb. Electric current is a flow of charge and is expressed in coulombs per second (C/s). The term used to express the measurement of current is the ampere. The ampere is equal to a flow rate of one coulomb per second. For example, 5 amps (a common abbreviation of amperes) is equal to a flow rate of 5 coulombs per second. The term ampere is named after a French scientist, by the name of Andre Marie Ampere (later 18th through the early 19th century). Electric power is a measurement that is used to express the amount of energy used by a mechanism that uses electrical energy to operate. For example, an electric motor will require and consume a certain amount of power to operate. The same is true of an ordinary light bulb which often has a power rating listed right there on the bulb. Electric power units of measure are watts, just like the units used to express mechanical power. Electrical power is dependent upon the measurements of electrical potential (voltage) and electrical current (amperage). The equation to calculate electrical power is written as P = V I.
(Ohm's Law: Materials defined as conductors offer varying amounts of resistance to the flow of electricity. This resistance causes a potential difference to occur between opposite ends of a conductor when a current flows through it. A German scientist, by the name of George Simon Ohm observed that the ratio of the potential difference between the two ends of the conductor to the electric current passing through it is constant. This ratio is known as the resistance of the conductor and is a measure of the resistance the conductor offers to the flow of electrical current. Electrical resistance is subject to change with a change in temperature, so it is only a constant value, when the temperature stays constant. This relationship, known as Ohm's Law, says that the current through a conductor varies directly with the applied potential difference and varies inversely with the resistance. The equation for this law is written as I = V / R, where I is the symbol for the electrical current expressed in amperes (symbol A), V is the applied electrical potential expressed in volts (symbol V), and R is the electrical resistance expressed in the units ohms (symbol W).
Diagramming Electrical Circuits: The components in an electric circuit can be represented by symbols rather than trying to draw facsimiles of the actual objects. These symbols are used in a drawing made to represent a circuit called a schematic. There are quite a few symbols used to represent all the different possible electrical components that may be used in a circuit. Physics texts and books about electrical circuits should have one or more tables of such information for you to look up and enter into your notes.
Controlling Current in a Circuit: According to Ohm's law there are two ways to control the electric current flowing through a circuit. One is by means of controlling the voltage applied to the circuit while the other is by means of controlling the resistance in a circuit. If a battery is the source of electrical potential (voltage), your choice of battery will determine voltage. Another means of controlling voltage would be through the use of a generator. Resistance can be determined by the use of fixed (single value) resistors or by the use of variable resistors also called rheostats or potentiometers. Ohm's law is valid when the resistance remains constant in a circuit. However, resistance can be affected by temperature. Resistance varies directly with temperature in a lot of conducting materials. As an example consider an ordinary incandescent light bulb with a tungsten filament. When the light is off the filament is cold and resistance is low. When the light is turned on the sudden surge of a large amount of electricity causes the filament to heat up rapidly. This stress can make the filament break. This is why bulbs are seen to usually break when the light is turned on and not when on or being turned off.
Heating Effect of Electric Currents: The equation for Ohm's law can be written as V = I R. In this form the value for the electrical potential (voltage) can be substituted into the equation for power P = V I resulting in the equation P = I2 R. This equation shows the relationship between power and resistance. Power varies directly with resistance. Often the electrical energy passing through a resistor is converted into heat. To determine the amount of heat produced during a specified time interval, the following equation is used Q (or E) = I2 R t.
Transmission of Electric Energy: Since the source of energy used to make electricity is not necessarily close to where the electricity is going to be used, electric energy must be transmitted over long distances with as little loss as is possible. Wires do have resistance. For example, a kilometer long piece of wire of the size normally used to bring electricity into a home has a resistance of 0.2 ohms. Now imagine a house 1.75 km from a power plant. In simple terms the current would have to make a round trip passing through 3.5 km of wire. The initial calculation involves multiplying the resistance per kilometer by the number of kilometers traveled. In this (situation we have 0.2 ohms / km multiplied by 3.5 km. This gives us 1.4 ohms of resistance. Next imagine that an electric stove in the home draw 41 amperes of current through the wires. The amount of power lost in the wires as the current flows through it is found by the equation for power P = I2 R. Substituting in the values P = (41 A)2 x (1.4 W) = 2400 W. To keep the power loss to a minimum the power companies use thick high conductive cables (low resistance) to keep resistance down and because the squaring of the current value has even a bigger affect, they keep the voltage very high and the current very low. A very high voltage and a very low current will result in a significant quantity of power being sent along the wires. You can see this conclusion is based upon the equation P = V I. This logic is the reason why the big long distance power lines operate with electrical potentials in the kilowatt and megawatt voltage ranges.
The Kilowatt Hour: Ironically Electric Companies advertise themselves as power companies, when in fact they provide electrical energy, not power. Your electric bill doesn't charge you for power, but rather it charges you for the amount of electrical energy you used. The electrical energy used is the rate at which the energy is used multiplied by the time during which the energy was used. In terms of units, the rate of energy consumption is in Joules per second (the measurement of power), and the time is in seconds (the measurement of time). When the two are multiplied together you have the total amount of energy, expressed in joules, used in that interval of time. Because the unit joule is quite a small unit of energy, the company bringing you electrical energy in a much larger unit called the kilowatt hour. One kilowatt hour is equal to 3,600,000 J.
(1 kWh = 1000 J/s x 3600 s = 3,600,000 J)
Part II: Series and Parallel Circuit
Series Circuits: A series circuit has only a single pathway for charge to flow through. When two or more resistors are connected in series, the current has to travel through each and every resistor, one after the other. To determine the current in the circuit you need to know the voltage (electrical potential) and calculate the effective resistance of the resistors in the circuit. The effective resistance is the resistance of a single resistor that could take the place of all of the resistors in the circuit. The equation to find the effective resistance of a series circuit is written as RT = R1 + R2 + .... RT is the effective or total resistance. To find the current in the series circuit you would use Ohms law.
Voltage Drops in a Series Circuit: A device (resistor, lamp, motor, etc.) in a circuit has a certain degree of resistance. In a series circuit there is the effective or total resistance of all of the devices combined and there are their individual resistances. Just as a single devise has its own individual resistance that contributes to the whole, it also has its own portion of the overall voltage. This amount of voltage is called the voltage drop and is a function of the overall current traveling through the circuit and the resistance of the individual device. The sum of all of the individual devices' voltage drops is equal to the total voltage applied to the circuit. This term voltage drop is used because as the charge moves through the circuit it is "pushed" by the electrical potential difference (voltage) as it goes from the higher potential to the lower potential. Such is the situation in a battery where current appears to move from the side full of charge (high electric potential) towards the side deficient in charge (low electric potential). As the charge moves through the circuit and the electrons encounter a device, a resistance, there is a drop in voltage as that resistance is overcome and the charge moves on through the device into the rest of the circuit. Ohm's law is used to calculate the voltage drop once the total current in the circuit is known. The voltage drop in a device with a high resistance will be larger than the voltage drop in (a device with a low resistance. An important application of this concept is the voltage divider. In this situation a battery with voltage higher than is needed for a circuit is available. By using the series circuit design and the correct resistors a lower voltage can be produced across a single resistor that has the correct value required for the original planned circuit.
Parallel Circuits: A parallel circuit has two or more paths for the electrical charge to flow through. The electrical potential difference (voltage) across each path is the same for all of the parallel paths. Again because there is more than one device having a resistance in the circuit, you would need to calculate the effective resistance in the circuit before you could make calculations about the current through the circuit. The equation for calculating the effective resistance in the circuit is written as 1/RT = 1/R1 + 1/R2 + .... Always remember that you want the value for RT and NOT the value for 1/RT.
The current flow through each branch of the parallel circuit is less than the total current in the circuit. In fact the sum of the currents in all of the individual branches equals the total current flowing through the circuit. The current in an individual branch that has a low resistance will be larger than the current through a branch that has a high resistance.
Applications of Parallel Circuits: A very definite advantage of the parallel circuit is that the device in each branch can be operated independently of any other branch. This is very important in a place like a home or business. In a series circuit if one devise breaks, current to anything else in the circuit stops flowing. In the parallel circuit a failed device does not stop the flow of current to devices in the other parallel paths.
To insure against overloading a circuit, which means having more current travel through it than it was designed to handle, there are fuses and / or circuit breakers placed in the path of each branch of a parallel circuit. These devises cut off the current through the circuit pathway, if the current exceeds the amount for which it was designed. This assumes that the correct size fuse or circuit breaker was used in the pathway to begin with. If too much current flows through a wire or a device the rise in temperature produced by resistance will cause the device to overheat and start on fire or the insulation on the wires through which the current is traveling, even those in the wall, to overheat and start on fire.
Short circuits are always a concern. Short circuits occur when a new circuit containing a very low resistance is formed by accident. The current would be very large and without a fuse or circuit breaker to react to the sudden surge in current a fire is likely to occur due to overheating of wires or appliances in the circuit.
Series - Parallel Circuits: Complex circuits are made up of series and parallel circuits combined together. All of the rules and equations concerning series and parallel circuits apply to the more complex circuit.
Ammeters and Voltmeters: The instrument used to measure the electrical current passing through a circuit is called an Ammeter. The ammeter must be placed in line with the other components in the circuit, if it is to be able to measure the current passing through the circuit. Since the current is passing through the ammeter, its resistance must be quite low so as not to contribute significantly to the effective resistance that along with the applied voltage determines the amount of current flowing through the circuit. An ammeter only measures the current flowing (through the branch in which it has been placed. It cannot measure the current flow in any other branches of the circuit. The instrument used to measure the voltage drop (electrical potential difference) for a battery, resistor, or other device in a circuit, which produces a resistance, is called a voltmeter. A voltmeter is not placed in the circuit pathway. Instead it is placed parallel to the device it is supposed measure the voltage drop for. A voltmeter has a very high resistance, because no appreciable current should pass through the voltmeter. Otherwise, the voltmeter would become part of the circuit through which a portion of the current would be passing. You never want your measuring devices to alter the characteristics of the circuit. Voltmeters may have resistances from anywhere between 2 x 104 W to 1 x 107 W.
Vocabulary: Pert I: electric current, conventional current, battery, photovoltaic cell, electric circuit, ampere, resistance, resistor, potentiometer, schematic, series connection, parallel connection, Kilowatt-hour; Part II: series circuit, parallel circuit, equivalent resistor, voltage divider, fuse, circuit breaker, ground-fault interrupter, short circuit, combination series-parallel circuit, ammeter, voltmeter
Skills to be learned:
Solve Electric Power problems
Solve Ohm's Law problems
Construct Circuit Diagrams, including the proper placement of volt and amp meters
Solve Heating Effect of Electric Current Problems
Solve Operating Appliance Cost problems
Solve Series Circuit problems
Solve Voltage Drop problems
Solve Parallel Circuit problems
Solve Series - Parallel Circuit problems
Assignments:
Textbook: Read / Study / Learn about electric current and electric circuits
WB Exercise(s): PS#22-1, PS#22-2, PS#23-, PS#23-2
Activities: TBA
Resources:
This Handout and the Overhead and Board Notes discussed in class
Textbook: Chapters 22 and 23
WB Lessons and Practice Problems
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