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College Physics for AP® Courses

Connection for AP® Courses

College Physics for AP® CoursesConnection for AP® Courses

A large volume of water gushes out of the gates of a dam at a hydroelectric facility.
Figure 20.1 Electric energy in massive quantities is transmitted from this hydroelectric facility, the Srisailam power station located along the Krishna River in India, by the movement of charge—that is, by electric current. (credit: Chintohere, Wikimedia Commons)

In our daily lives, we see and experience many examples of electricity which involve electric current, the movement of charge. These include the flicker of numbers on a handheld calculator, nerve impulses carrying signals of vision to the brain, an ultrasound device sending a signal to a computer screen, the brain sending a message for a baby to twitch its toes, an electric train pulling its load over a mountain pass, and a hydroelectric plant sending energy to metropolitan and rural users.

Humankind has indeed harnessed electricity, the basis of technology, to improve the quality of life. While the previous two chapters concentrated on static electricity and the fundamental force underlying its behavior, the next few chapters will be devoted to electric and magnetic phenomena involving electric current. In addition to exploring applications of electricity, we shall gain new insights into its nature – in particular, the fact that all magnetism results from electric current.

This chapter supports learning objectives covered under Big Ideas 1, 4, and 5 of the AP Physics Curriculum Framework. Electric charge is a property of a system (Big Idea 1) that affects its interaction with other charged systems (Enduring Understanding 1.B), whereas electric current is fundamentally the movement of charge through a conductor and is based on the fact that electric charge is conserved within a system (Essential Knowledge 1.B.1). The conservation of charge also leads to the concept of an electric circuit as a closed loop of electrical current. In addition, this chapter discusses examples showing that the current in a circuit is resisted by the elements of the circuit and the strength of the resistance depends on the material of the elements. The macroscopic properties of materials, including resistivity, depend on their molecular and atomic structure (Enduring Understanding 1.E). In addition, resistivity depends on the temperature of the material (Essential Knowledge 1.E.2).

The chapter also describes how the interaction of systems of objects can result in changes in those systems (Big Idea 4). For example, electric properties of a system of charged objects can change in response to the presence of, or changes in, other charged objects or systems (Enduring Understanding 4.E). A simple circuit with a resistor and an energy source is an example of such a system. The current through the resistor in the circuit is equal to the difference of potentials across the resistor divided by its resistance (Essential Knowledge 4.E.4).

The unifying theme of the physics curriculum is that any changes in the systems due to interactions are governed by laws of conservation (Big Idea 5). This chapter applies the idea of energy conservation (Enduring Understanding 5.B) to electric circuits and connects concepts of electric energy and electric power as rates of energy use (Essential Knowledge 5.B.5). While the laws of conservation of energy in electric circuits are fully described by Kirchoff's rules, which are introduced in the next chapter (Essential Knowledge 5.B.9), the specific definition of power (based on Essential Knowledge 5.B.9) is that it is the rate at which energy is transferred from a resistor as the product of the electric potential difference across the resistor and the current through the resistor.

Big Idea 1 Objects and systems have properties such as mass and charge. Systems may have internal structure.

Enduring Understanding 1.B Electric charge is a property of an object or system that affects its interactions with other objects or systems containing charge.

Essential Knowledge 1.B.1 Electric charge is conserved. The net charge of a system is equal to the sum of the charges of all the objects in the system.

Enduring Understanding 1.E Materials have many macroscopic properties that result from the arrangement and interactions of the atoms and molecules that make up the material.

Essential Knowledge 1.E.2 Matter has a property called resistivity.

Big Idea 4 Interactions between systems can result in changes in those systems.

Enduring Understanding 4.E The electric and magnetic properties of a system can change in response to the presence of, or changes in, other objects or systems.

Essential Knowledge 4.E.4 The resistance of a resistor, and the capacitance of a capacitor, can be understood from the basic properties of electric fields and forces, as well as the properties of materials and their geometry.

Big Idea 5: Changes that occur as a result of interactions are constrained by conservation laws.

Enduring Understanding 5.B The energy of a system is conserved.

Essential Knowledge 5.B.5 Energy can be transferred by an external force exerted on an object or system that moves the object or system through a distance; this energy transfer is called work. Energy transfer in mechanical or electrical systems may occur at different rates. Power is defined as the rate of energy transfer into, out of, or within a system. [A piston filled with gas getting compressed or expanded is treated in Physics 2 as a part of thermodynamics.]

Essential Knowledge 5.B.9 Kirchhoff's loop rule describes conservation of energy in electrical circuits. [The application of Kirchhoff's laws to circuits is introduced in Physics 1 and further developed in Physics 2 in the context of more complex circuits, including those with capacitors.]

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