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College Physics for AP® Courses

21.6 DC Circuits Containing Resistors and Capacitors

College Physics for AP® Courses21.6 DC Circuits Containing Resistors and Capacitors
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 Introduction: The Nature of Science and Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 1.1 Physics: An Introduction
    3. 1.2 Physical Quantities and Units
    4. 1.3 Accuracy, Precision, and Significant Figures
    5. 1.4 Approximation
    6. Glossary
    7. Section Summary
    8. Conceptual Questions
    9. Problems & Exercises
  3. 2 Kinematics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 2.1 Displacement
    3. 2.2 Vectors, Scalars, and Coordinate Systems
    4. 2.3 Time, Velocity, and Speed
    5. 2.4 Acceleration
    6. 2.5 Motion Equations for Constant Acceleration in One Dimension
    7. 2.6 Problem-Solving Basics for One Dimensional Kinematics
    8. 2.7 Falling Objects
    9. 2.8 Graphical Analysis of One Dimensional Motion
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
    14. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  4. 3 Two-Dimensional Kinematics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 3.1 Kinematics in Two Dimensions: An Introduction
    3. 3.2 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Graphical Methods
    4. 3.3 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Analytical Methods
    5. 3.4 Projectile Motion
    6. 3.5 Addition of Velocities
    7. Glossary
    8. Section Summary
    9. Conceptual Questions
    10. Problems & Exercises
    11. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  5. 4 Dynamics: Force and Newton's Laws of Motion
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 4.1 Development of Force Concept
    3. 4.2 Newton's First Law of Motion: Inertia
    4. 4.3 Newton's Second Law of Motion: Concept of a System
    5. 4.4 Newton's Third Law of Motion: Symmetry in Forces
    6. 4.5 Normal, Tension, and Other Examples of Force
    7. 4.6 Problem-Solving Strategies
    8. 4.7 Further Applications of Newton's Laws of Motion
    9. 4.8 Extended Topic: The Four Basic Forces—An Introduction
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
    14. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  6. 5 Further Applications of Newton's Laws: Friction, Drag, and Elasticity
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 5.1 Friction
    3. 5.2 Drag Forces
    4. 5.3 Elasticity: Stress and Strain
    5. Glossary
    6. Section Summary
    7. Conceptual Questions
    8. Problems & Exercises
    9. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  7. 6 Gravitation and Uniform Circular Motion
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 6.1 Rotation Angle and Angular Velocity
    3. 6.2 Centripetal Acceleration
    4. 6.3 Centripetal Force
    5. 6.4 Fictitious Forces and Non-inertial Frames: The Coriolis Force
    6. 6.5 Newton's Universal Law of Gravitation
    7. 6.6 Satellites and Kepler's Laws: An Argument for Simplicity
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  8. 7 Work, Energy, and Energy Resources
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 7.1 Work: The Scientific Definition
    3. 7.2 Kinetic Energy and the Work-Energy Theorem
    4. 7.3 Gravitational Potential Energy
    5. 7.4 Conservative Forces and Potential Energy
    6. 7.5 Nonconservative Forces
    7. 7.6 Conservation of Energy
    8. 7.7 Power
    9. 7.8 Work, Energy, and Power in Humans
    10. 7.9 World Energy Use
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
    15. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  9. 8 Linear Momentum and Collisions
    1. Connection for AP® courses
    2. 8.1 Linear Momentum and Force
    3. 8.2 Impulse
    4. 8.3 Conservation of Momentum
    5. 8.4 Elastic Collisions in One Dimension
    6. 8.5 Inelastic Collisions in One Dimension
    7. 8.6 Collisions of Point Masses in Two Dimensions
    8. 8.7 Introduction to Rocket Propulsion
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  10. 9 Statics and Torque
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 9.1 The First Condition for Equilibrium
    3. 9.2 The Second Condition for Equilibrium
    4. 9.3 Stability
    5. 9.4 Applications of Statics, Including Problem-Solving Strategies
    6. 9.5 Simple Machines
    7. 9.6 Forces and Torques in Muscles and Joints
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  11. 10 Rotational Motion and Angular Momentum
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 10.1 Angular Acceleration
    3. 10.2 Kinematics of Rotational Motion
    4. 10.3 Dynamics of Rotational Motion: Rotational Inertia
    5. 10.4 Rotational Kinetic Energy: Work and Energy Revisited
    6. 10.5 Angular Momentum and Its Conservation
    7. 10.6 Collisions of Extended Bodies in Two Dimensions
    8. 10.7 Gyroscopic Effects: Vector Aspects of Angular Momentum
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  12. 11 Fluid Statics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 11.1 What Is a Fluid?
    3. 11.2 Density
    4. 11.3 Pressure
    5. 11.4 Variation of Pressure with Depth in a Fluid
    6. 11.5 Pascal’s Principle
    7. 11.6 Gauge Pressure, Absolute Pressure, and Pressure Measurement
    8. 11.7 Archimedes’ Principle
    9. 11.8 Cohesion and Adhesion in Liquids: Surface Tension and Capillary Action
    10. 11.9 Pressures in the Body
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
    15. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  13. 12 Fluid Dynamics and Its Biological and Medical Applications
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 12.1 Flow Rate and Its Relation to Velocity
    3. 12.2 Bernoulli’s Equation
    4. 12.3 The Most General Applications of Bernoulli’s Equation
    5. 12.4 Viscosity and Laminar Flow; Poiseuille’s Law
    6. 12.5 The Onset of Turbulence
    7. 12.6 Motion of an Object in a Viscous Fluid
    8. 12.7 Molecular Transport Phenomena: Diffusion, Osmosis, and Related Processes
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  14. 13 Temperature, Kinetic Theory, and the Gas Laws
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 13.1 Temperature
    3. 13.2 Thermal Expansion of Solids and Liquids
    4. 13.3 The Ideal Gas Law
    5. 13.4 Kinetic Theory: Atomic and Molecular Explanation of Pressure and Temperature
    6. 13.5 Phase Changes
    7. 13.6 Humidity, Evaporation, and Boiling
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  15. 14 Heat and Heat Transfer Methods
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 14.1 Heat
    3. 14.2 Temperature Change and Heat Capacity
    4. 14.3 Phase Change and Latent Heat
    5. 14.4 Heat Transfer Methods
    6. 14.5 Conduction
    7. 14.6 Convection
    8. 14.7 Radiation
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  16. 15 Thermodynamics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 15.1 The First Law of Thermodynamics
    3. 15.2 The First Law of Thermodynamics and Some Simple Processes
    4. 15.3 Introduction to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Heat Engines and Their Efficiency
    5. 15.4 Carnot’s Perfect Heat Engine: The Second Law of Thermodynamics Restated
    6. 15.5 Applications of Thermodynamics: Heat Pumps and Refrigerators
    7. 15.6 Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Disorder and the Unavailability of Energy
    8. 15.7 Statistical Interpretation of Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: The Underlying Explanation
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  17. 16 Oscillatory Motion and Waves
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 16.1 Hooke’s Law: Stress and Strain Revisited
    3. 16.2 Period and Frequency in Oscillations
    4. 16.3 Simple Harmonic Motion: A Special Periodic Motion
    5. 16.4 The Simple Pendulum
    6. 16.5 Energy and the Simple Harmonic Oscillator
    7. 16.6 Uniform Circular Motion and Simple Harmonic Motion
    8. 16.7 Damped Harmonic Motion
    9. 16.8 Forced Oscillations and Resonance
    10. 16.9 Waves
    11. 16.10 Superposition and Interference
    12. 16.11 Energy in Waves: Intensity
    13. Glossary
    14. Section Summary
    15. Conceptual Questions
    16. Problems & Exercises
    17. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  18. 17 Physics of Hearing
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 17.1 Sound
    3. 17.2 Speed of Sound, Frequency, and Wavelength
    4. 17.3 Sound Intensity and Sound Level
    5. 17.4 Doppler Effect and Sonic Booms
    6. 17.5 Sound Interference and Resonance: Standing Waves in Air Columns
    7. 17.6 Hearing
    8. 17.7 Ultrasound
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  19. 18 Electric Charge and Electric Field
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 18.1 Static Electricity and Charge: Conservation of Charge
    3. 18.2 Conductors and Insulators
    4. 18.3 Conductors and Electric Fields in Static Equilibrium
    5. 18.4 Coulomb’s Law
    6. 18.5 Electric Field: Concept of a Field Revisited
    7. 18.6 Electric Field Lines: Multiple Charges
    8. 18.7 Electric Forces in Biology
    9. 18.8 Applications of Electrostatics
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
    14. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  20. 19 Electric Potential and Electric Field
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 19.1 Electric Potential Energy: Potential Difference
    3. 19.2 Electric Potential in a Uniform Electric Field
    4. 19.3 Electrical Potential Due to a Point Charge
    5. 19.4 Equipotential Lines
    6. 19.5 Capacitors and Dielectrics
    7. 19.6 Capacitors in Series and Parallel
    8. 19.7 Energy Stored in Capacitors
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  21. 20 Electric Current, Resistance, and Ohm's Law
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 20.1 Current
    3. 20.2 Ohm’s Law: Resistance and Simple Circuits
    4. 20.3 Resistance and Resistivity
    5. 20.4 Electric Power and Energy
    6. 20.5 Alternating Current versus Direct Current
    7. 20.6 Electric Hazards and the Human Body
    8. 20.7 Nerve Conduction–Electrocardiograms
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  22. 21 Circuits, Bioelectricity, and DC Instruments
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 21.1 Resistors in Series and Parallel
    3. 21.2 Electromotive Force: Terminal Voltage
    4. 21.3 Kirchhoff’s Rules
    5. 21.4 DC Voltmeters and Ammeters
    6. 21.5 Null Measurements
    7. 21.6 DC Circuits Containing Resistors and Capacitors
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  23. 22 Magnetism
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 22.1 Magnets
    3. 22.2 Ferromagnets and Electromagnets
    4. 22.3 Magnetic Fields and Magnetic Field Lines
    5. 22.4 Magnetic Field Strength: Force on a Moving Charge in a Magnetic Field
    6. 22.5 Force on a Moving Charge in a Magnetic Field: Examples and Applications
    7. 22.6 The Hall Effect
    8. 22.7 Magnetic Force on a Current-Carrying Conductor
    9. 22.8 Torque on a Current Loop: Motors and Meters
    10. 22.9 Magnetic Fields Produced by Currents: Ampere’s Law
    11. 22.10 Magnetic Force between Two Parallel Conductors
    12. 22.11 More Applications of Magnetism
    13. Glossary
    14. Section Summary
    15. Conceptual Questions
    16. Problems & Exercises
    17. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  24. 23 Electromagnetic Induction, AC Circuits, and Electrical Technologies
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 23.1 Induced Emf and Magnetic Flux
    3. 23.2 Faraday’s Law of Induction: Lenz’s Law
    4. 23.3 Motional Emf
    5. 23.4 Eddy Currents and Magnetic Damping
    6. 23.5 Electric Generators
    7. 23.6 Back Emf
    8. 23.7 Transformers
    9. 23.8 Electrical Safety: Systems and Devices
    10. 23.9 Inductance
    11. 23.10 RL Circuits
    12. 23.11 Reactance, Inductive and Capacitive
    13. 23.12 RLC Series AC Circuits
    14. Glossary
    15. Section Summary
    16. Conceptual Questions
    17. Problems & Exercises
    18. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  25. 24 Electromagnetic Waves
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 24.1 Maxwell’s Equations: Electromagnetic Waves Predicted and Observed
    3. 24.2 Production of Electromagnetic Waves
    4. 24.3 The Electromagnetic Spectrum
    5. 24.4 Energy in Electromagnetic Waves
    6. Glossary
    7. Section Summary
    8. Conceptual Questions
    9. Problems & Exercises
    10. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  26. 25 Geometric Optics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 25.1 The Ray Aspect of Light
    3. 25.2 The Law of Reflection
    4. 25.3 The Law of Refraction
    5. 25.4 Total Internal Reflection
    6. 25.5 Dispersion: The Rainbow and Prisms
    7. 25.6 Image Formation by Lenses
    8. 25.7 Image Formation by Mirrors
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  27. 26 Vision and Optical Instruments
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 26.1 Physics of the Eye
    3. 26.2 Vision Correction
    4. 26.3 Color and Color Vision
    5. 26.4 Microscopes
    6. 26.5 Telescopes
    7. 26.6 Aberrations
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  28. 27 Wave Optics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 27.1 The Wave Aspect of Light: Interference
    3. 27.2 Huygens's Principle: Diffraction
    4. 27.3 Young’s Double Slit Experiment
    5. 27.4 Multiple Slit Diffraction
    6. 27.5 Single Slit Diffraction
    7. 27.6 Limits of Resolution: The Rayleigh Criterion
    8. 27.7 Thin Film Interference
    9. 27.8 Polarization
    10. 27.9 *Extended Topic* Microscopy Enhanced by the Wave Characteristics of Light
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
    15. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  29. 28 Special Relativity
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 28.1 Einstein’s Postulates
    3. 28.2 Simultaneity And Time Dilation
    4. 28.3 Length Contraction
    5. 28.4 Relativistic Addition of Velocities
    6. 28.5 Relativistic Momentum
    7. 28.6 Relativistic Energy
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  30. 29 Introduction to Quantum Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 29.1 Quantization of Energy
    3. 29.2 The Photoelectric Effect
    4. 29.3 Photon Energies and the Electromagnetic Spectrum
    5. 29.4 Photon Momentum
    6. 29.5 The Particle-Wave Duality
    7. 29.6 The Wave Nature of Matter
    8. 29.7 Probability: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
    9. 29.8 The Particle-Wave Duality Reviewed
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
    14. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  31. 30 Atomic Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 30.1 Discovery of the Atom
    3. 30.2 Discovery of the Parts of the Atom: Electrons and Nuclei
    4. 30.3 Bohr’s Theory of the Hydrogen Atom
    5. 30.4 X Rays: Atomic Origins and Applications
    6. 30.5 Applications of Atomic Excitations and De-Excitations
    7. 30.6 The Wave Nature of Matter Causes Quantization
    8. 30.7 Patterns in Spectra Reveal More Quantization
    9. 30.8 Quantum Numbers and Rules
    10. 30.9 The Pauli Exclusion Principle
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
    15. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  32. 31 Radioactivity and Nuclear Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 31.1 Nuclear Radioactivity
    3. 31.2 Radiation Detection and Detectors
    4. 31.3 Substructure of the Nucleus
    5. 31.4 Nuclear Decay and Conservation Laws
    6. 31.5 Half-Life and Activity
    7. 31.6 Binding Energy
    8. 31.7 Tunneling
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  33. 32 Medical Applications of Nuclear Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 32.1 Medical Imaging and Diagnostics
    3. 32.2 Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation
    4. 32.3 Therapeutic Uses of Ionizing Radiation
    5. 32.4 Food Irradiation
    6. 32.5 Fusion
    7. 32.6 Fission
    8. 32.7 Nuclear Weapons
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  34. 33 Particle Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 33.1 The Yukawa Particle and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle Revisited
    3. 33.2 The Four Basic Forces
    4. 33.3 Accelerators Create Matter from Energy
    5. 33.4 Particles, Patterns, and Conservation Laws
    6. 33.5 Quarks: Is That All There Is?
    7. 33.6 GUTs: The Unification of Forces
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  35. 34 Frontiers of Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 34.1 Cosmology and Particle Physics
    3. 34.2 General Relativity and Quantum Gravity
    4. 34.3 Superstrings
    5. 34.4 Dark Matter and Closure
    6. 34.5 Complexity and Chaos
    7. 34.6 High-Temperature Superconductors
    8. 34.7 Some Questions We Know to Ask
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  36. A | Atomic Masses
  37. B | Selected Radioactive Isotopes
  38. C | Useful Information
  39. D | Glossary of Key Symbols and Notation
  40. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
    21. Chapter 21
    22. Chapter 22
    23. Chapter 23
    24. Chapter 24
    25. Chapter 25
    26. Chapter 26
    27. Chapter 27
    28. Chapter 28
    29. Chapter 29
    30. Chapter 30
    31. Chapter 31
    32. Chapter 32
    33. Chapter 33
    34. Chapter 34
  41. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain the importance of the time constant τ, and calculate the time constant for a given resistance and capacitance.
  • Explain why batteries in a flashlight gradually lose power and the light dims over time.
  • Describe what happens to a graph of the voltage across a capacitor over time as it charges.
  • Explain how a timing circuit works and list some applications.
  • Calculate the necessary speed of a strobe flash needed to “stop” the movement of an object over a particular length.

The information presented in this section supports the following AP® learning objectives and science practices:

  • 5.C.3.6 The student is able to determine missing values and direction of electric current in branches of a circuit with both resistors and capacitors from values and directions of current in other branches of the circuit through appropriate selection of nodes and application of the junction rule. (S.P. 1.4, 2.2)
  • 5.C.3.7 The student is able to determine missing values, direction of electric current, charge of capacitors at steady state, and potential differences within a circuit with resistors and capacitors from values and directions of current in other branches of the circuit. (S.P. 1.4, 2.2)

When you use a flash camera, it takes a few seconds to charge the capacitor that powers the flash. The light flash discharges the capacitor in a tiny fraction of a second. Why does charging take longer than discharging? This question and a number of other phenomena that involve charging and discharging capacitors are discussed in this module.

RC Circuits

An RC circuit is one containing a resistorRR size 12{R} {} and a capacitor CC size 12{C} {}. The capacitor is an electrical component that stores electric charge.

Figure 21.41 shows a simple RCRC size 12{ ital "RC"} {} circuit that employs a DC (direct current) voltage source. The capacitor is initially uncharged. As soon as the switch is closed, current flows to and from the initially uncharged capacitor. As charge increases on the capacitor plates, there is increasing opposition to the flow of charge by the repulsion of like charges on each plate.

In terms of voltage, this is because voltage across the capacitor is given by Vc=Q/CVc=Q/C size 12{V rSub { size 8{c} } =Q/C} {}, where QQ size 12{Q} {} is the amount of charge stored on each plate and CC size 12{C} {} is the capacitance. This voltage opposes the battery, growing from zero to the maximum emf when fully charged. The current thus decreases from its initial value of I0=emfRI0=emfR size 12{I rSub { size 8{0} } = { {"emf"} over {R} } } {} to zero as the voltage on the capacitor reaches the same value as the emf. When there is no current, there is no IRIR size 12{ ital "IR"} {} drop, and so the voltage on the capacitor must then equal the emf of the voltage source. This can also be explained with Kirchhoff’s second rule (the loop rule), discussed in Kirchhoff’s Rules, which says that the algebraic sum of changes in potential around any closed loop must be zero.

The initial current is I0=emfRI0=emfR size 12{I rSub { size 8{0} } = { {"emf"} over {R} } } {}, because all of the IRIR size 12{ ital "IR"} {} drop is in the resistance. Therefore, the smaller the resistance, the faster a given capacitor will be charged. Note that the internal resistance of the voltage source is included in RR size 12{R} {}, as are the resistances of the capacitor and the connecting wires. In the flash camera scenario above, when the batteries powering the camera begin to wear out, their internal resistance rises, reducing the current and lengthening the time it takes to get ready for the next flash.

Part a shows a circuit with a cell of e m f script E connected in series with a resistor R, a capacitor C, and a switch to close the circuit. The current is shown flowing in a clockwise direction. The capacitor plates are shown to have a charge positive q and negative q respectively. Part b shows a graph of the variation of voltage of the capacitor with time. The voltage is plotted along the vertical axis and the time is along the horizontal axis. The graph shows a smooth upward rising curve which approaches a maximum and flattens out at maximum voltage equal to e m f script E over time.
Figure 21.41 (a) An RCRC size 12{ ital "RC"} {} circuit with an initially uncharged capacitor. Current flows in the direction shown (opposite of electron flow) as soon as the switch is closed. Mutual repulsion of like charges in the capacitor progressively slows the flow as the capacitor is charged, stopping the current when the capacitor is fully charged and Q=CemfQ=Cemf size 12{Q=C cdot "emf"} {}. (b) A graph of voltage across the capacitor versus time, with the switch closing at time t=0t=0 size 12{t=0} {}. (Note that in the two parts of the figure, the capital script E stands for emf, qq stands for the charge stored on the capacitor, and ττ is the RCRC time constant.)

Voltage on the capacitor is initially zero and rises rapidly at first, since the initial current is a maximum. Figure 21.41(b) shows a graph of capacitor voltage versus time (tt size 12{t} {}) starting when the switch is closed at t=0t=0 size 12{t=0} {}. The voltage approaches emf asymptotically, since the closer it gets to emf the less current flows. The equation for voltage versus time when charging a capacitor CC size 12{C} {} through a resistor RR size 12{R} {}, derived using calculus, is

V=emf(1et/RC) (charging),V=emf(1et/RC) (charging), size 12{V="emf" \( 1 - e rSup { size 8{ - t/ ital "RC"} } \) } {}
21.77

where VV size 12{V} {} is the voltage across the capacitor, emf is equal to the emf of the DC voltage source, and the exponential e = 2.718 … is the base of the natural logarithm. Note that the units of RCRC size 12{ ital "RC"} {} are seconds. We define

τ=RC,τ=RC, size 12{τ= ital "RC"} {}
21.78

where ττ size 12{τ} {} (the Greek letter tau) is called the time constant for an RCRC size 12{ ital "RC"} {} circuit. As noted before, a small resistance RR size 12{R} {} allows the capacitor to charge faster. This is reasonable, since a larger current flows through a smaller resistance. It is also reasonable that the smaller the capacitor CC size 12{C} {}, the less time needed to charge it. Both factors are contained in τ=RCτ=RC size 12{τ= ital "RC"} {}.

More quantitatively, consider what happens when t=τ=RCt=τ=RC size 12{t=τ= ital "RC"} {}. Then the voltage on the capacitor is

V=emf1e1=emf10.368=0.632emf.V=emf1e1=emf10.368=0.632emf. size 12{V="emf" left (1 - e rSup { size 8{ - 1} } right )="emf" left (1 - 0 "." "368" right )=0 "." "632" cdot "emf"} {}
21.79

This means that in the time τ=RCτ=RC size 12{τ= ital "RC"} {}, the voltage rises to 0.632 of its final value. The voltage will rise 0.632 of the remainder in the next time ττ size 12{τ} {}. It is a characteristic of the exponential function that the final value is never reached, but 0.632 of the remainder to that value is achieved in every time, ττ size 12{τ} {}. In just a few multiples of the time constant ττ size 12{τ} {}, then, the final value is very nearly achieved, as the graph in Figure 21.41(b) illustrates.

Discharging a Capacitor

Discharging a capacitor through a resistor proceeds in a similar fashion, as Figure 21.42 illustrates. Initially, the current is I0=V0RI0=V0R size 12{I rSub { size 8{0} } = { {V rSub { size 8{0} } } over {R} } } {}, driven by the initial voltage V0V0 size 12{V rSub { size 8{0} } } {} on the capacitor. As the voltage decreases, the current and hence the rate of discharge decreases, implying another exponential formula for VV size 12{V} {}. Using calculus, the voltage VV size 12{V} {} on a capacitor CC size 12{C} {} being discharged through a resistor RR size 12{R} {} is found to be

V=V0et/RC (discharging).V=V0et/RC (discharging). size 12{V=`V"" lSub { size 8{0} } `e rSup { size 8{ - t/ ital "RC"} } } {}
21.80
Part a shows a circuit with a capacitor C connected in series with a resistor R and a switch to close the circuit. The current is shown flowing in a counterclockwise direction. The capacitor plates are shown to have a charge positive q and negative q respectively. Part b shows a graph of the variation of voltage across the capacitor with time. The voltage is plotted along the vertical axis and the time is along the horizontal axis. The graph shows a smooth downward falling curve which approaches a minimum and flattens out close to zero over time.
Figure 21.42 (a) Closing the switch discharges the capacitor CC size 12{C} {} through the resistor RR size 12{R} {}. Mutual repulsion of like charges on each plate drives the current. (b) A graph of voltage across the capacitor versus time, with V = V 0 V = V 0 size 12{V=V rSub { size 8{0} } } {} at t=0t=0. The voltage decreases exponentially, falling a fixed fraction of the way to zero in each subsequent time constant ττ size 12{τ} {}.

The graph in Figure 21.42(b) is an example of this exponential decay. Again, the time constant is τ=RCτ=RC size 12{τ= ital "RC"} {}. A small resistance RR size 12{R} {} allows the capacitor to discharge in a small time, since the current is larger. Similarly, a small capacitance requires less time to discharge, since less charge is stored. In the first time interval τ=RCτ=RC size 12{τ= ital "RC"} {} after the switch is closed, the voltage falls to 0.368 of its initial value, since V=V0e1=0.368V0V=V0e1=0.368V0 size 12{V=V rSub { size 8{0} } cdot e rSup { size 8{ - 1} } =0 "." "368"V rSub { size 8{0} } } {}.

During each successive time ττ size 12{τ} {}, the voltage falls to 0.368 of its preceding value. In a few multiples of ττ size 12{τ} {}, the voltage becomes very close to zero, as indicated by the graph in Figure 21.42(b).

Now we can explain why the flash camera in our scenario takes so much longer to charge than discharge; the resistance while charging is significantly greater than while discharging. The internal resistance of the battery accounts for most of the resistance while charging. As the battery ages, the increasing internal resistance makes the charging process even slower. (You may have noticed this.)

The flash discharge is through a low-resistance ionized gas in the flash tube and proceeds very rapidly. Flash photographs, such as in Figure 21.43, can capture a brief instant of a rapid motion because the flash can be less than a microsecond in duration. Such flashes can be made extremely intense.

During World War II, nighttime reconnaissance photographs were made from the air with a single flash illuminating more than a square kilometer of enemy territory. The brevity of the flash eliminated blurring due to the surveillance aircraft’s motion. Today, an important use of intense flash lamps is to pump energy into a laser. The short intense flash can rapidly energize a laser and allow it to reemit the energy in another form.

In the photograph, details of the fast beating wings of the hummingbird taking nectar from a flower have been caught in focus, instead of the blur that our eyes would see in real time.
Figure 21.43 This stop-motion photograph of a rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) feeding on a flower was obtained with an extremely brief and intense flash of light powered by the discharge of a capacitor through a gas. (credit: Dean E. Biggins, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Example 21.6 Integrated Concept Problem: Calculating Capacitor Size—Strobe Lights

High-speed flash photography was pioneered by Doc Edgerton in the 1930s, while he was a professor of electrical engineering at MIT. You might have seen examples of his work in the amazing shots of hummingbirds in motion, a drop of milk splattering on a table, or a bullet penetrating an apple (see Figure 21.43). To stop the motion and capture these pictures, one needs a high-intensity, very short pulsed flash, as mentioned earlier in this module.

Suppose one wished to capture the picture of a bullet (moving at 5.0×102m/s5.0×102m/s) that was passing through an apple. The duration of the flash is related to the RCRC size 12{ ital "RC"} {} time constant, ττ size 12{τ} {}. What size capacitor would one need in the RCRC size 12{ ital "RC"} {} circuit to succeed, if the resistance of the flash tube was 10.0 Ω10.0 Ω size 12{"10" %OMEGA } {}? Assume the apple is a sphere with a diameter of 8.0×10–2m.8.0×10–2m.

Strategy

We begin by identifying the physical principles involved. This example deals with the strobe light, as discussed above. Figure 21.42 shows the circuit for this probe. The characteristic time ττ size 12{τ} {} of the strobe is given as τ=RCτ=RC size 12{τ= ital "RC"} {}.

Solution

We wish to find CC size 12{C} {}, but we don’t know ττ size 12{τ} {}. We want the flash to be on only while the bullet traverses the apple. So we need to use the kinematic equations that describe the relationship between distance xx size 12{x} {}, velocity vv size 12{v} {}, and time tt size 12{t} {}:

x=vtort=xv.x=vtort=xv. size 12{t= { {x} over {v} } } {}
21.81

The bullet’s velocity is given as 5.0×102m/s5.0×102m/s, and the distance xx size 12{x} {} is 8.0×10–2m.8.0×10–2m. The traverse time, then, is

t=xv=8.0×10–2m5.0×102m/s=1.6×104s.t=xv=8.0×10–2m5.0×102m/s=1.6×104s. size 12{t= { {x} over {v} } = { {0 "." "08"" m"} over {"500 m/s"} } =1 "." 6 times "10" rSup { size 8{ - 4} } " s"} {}
21.82

We set this value for the crossing time tt size 12{t} {} equal to ττ size 12{τ} {}. Therefore,

C=tR=1.6×104s10.0 Ω=16μF.C=tR=1.6×104s10.0 Ω=16μF. size 12{C= { {t} over {R} } = { { left (1 "." 6´"10" rSup { size 8{-4} } right )} over {"10"} } ="16" μF} {}
21.83

(Note: Capacitance CC size 12{C} {} is typically measured in farads, F F , defined as Coulombs per volt. From the equation, we see that CC size 12{C} {} can also be stated in units of seconds per ohm.)

Discussion

The flash interval of 160 μs160 μs size 12{"160" ms} {} (the traverse time of the bullet) is relatively easy to obtain today. Strobe lights have opened up new worlds from science to entertainment. The information from the picture of the apple and bullet was used in the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 to confirm that only one bullet was fired.

RC Circuits for Timing

RCRC size 12{ ital "RC"} {} circuits are commonly used for timing purposes. A mundane example of this is found in the ubiquitous intermittent wiper systems of modern cars. The time between wipes is varied by adjusting the resistance in an RCRC size 12{ ital "RC"} {} circuit. Another example of an RCRC size 12{ ital "RC"} {} circuit is found in novelty jewelry, Halloween costumes, and various toys that have battery-powered flashing lights. (See Figure 21.44 for a timing circuit.)

A more crucial use of RCRC size 12{ ital "RC"} {} circuits for timing purposes is in the artificial pacemaker, used to control heart rate. The heart rate is normally controlled by electrical signals generated by the sino-atrial (SA) node, which is on the wall of the right atrium chamber. This causes the muscles to contract and pump blood. Sometimes the heart rhythm is abnormal and the heartbeat is too high or too low.

The artificial pacemaker is inserted near the heart to provide electrical signals to the heart when needed with the appropriate time constant. Pacemakers have sensors that detect body motion and breathing to increase the heart rate during exercise to meet the body’s increased needs for blood and oxygen.

Part a shows a charging circuit containing cell of e m f script E connected to a resistor R and capacitor C and a closed switch to complete the circuit. The current is shown to flow clockwise through this arm of the circuit alone. A bulb of high resistance R is connected across the capacitor. Part b shows a discharging circuit containing a cell of e m f script E connected to a resistor R and capacitor C and a closed switch to complete the circuit. A bulb of low resistance R is connected across the capacitor. Current flows clockwise through the arm containing the capacitor and the low resistance bulb. Part c is a graph showing variation of voltage verses time for the bulb in above circuit. The voltage is plotted along the vertical axis and the time is plotted along the horizontal axis. The curve has a smooth rise from the origin, reaches a plateau at threshold value of voltage where it begins to drop and rise as a small sawtooth wave with maxima lying along the threshold line.
Figure 21.44 (a) The lamp in this RCRC size 12{ ital "RC"} {} circuit ordinarily has a very high resistance, so that the battery charges the capacitor as if the lamp were not there. When the voltage reaches a threshold value, a current flows through the lamp that dramatically reduces its resistance, and the capacitor discharges through the lamp as if the battery and charging resistor were not there. Once discharged, the process starts again, with the flash period determined by the RCRC size 12{ ital "RC"} {} constant ττ size 12{τ} {}. (b) A graph of voltage versus time for this circuit.

Example 21.7 Calculating Time: RC Circuit in a Heart Defibrillator

A heart defibrillator is used to resuscitate an accident victim by discharging a capacitor through the trunk of her body. A simplified version of the circuit is seen in Figure 21.42. (a) What is the time constant if an 8.00-μF8.00-μF size 12{8 "." "00"-mF} {} capacitor is used and the path resistance through her body is 1.00×103Ω1.00×103Ω? (b) If the initial voltage is 10.0 kV, how long does it take to decline to 5.00×102V5.00×102V?

Strategy

Since the resistance and capacitance are given, it is straightforward to multiply them to give the time constant asked for in part (a). To find the time for the voltage to decline to 5.00×102V5.00×102V, we repeatedly multiply the initial voltage by 0.368 until a voltage less than or equal to 5.00×102V5.00×102V is obtained. Each multiplication corresponds to a time of ττ size 12{τ} {} seconds.

Solution for (a)

The time constant ττ size 12{τ} {} is given by the equation τ=RCτ=RC size 12{τ= ital "RC"} {}. Entering the given values for resistance and capacitance (and remembering that units for a farad can be expressed as s/Ωs/Ω size 12{s/ %OMEGA } {}) gives

τ=RC=(1.00× 10 3 Ω)(8.00μF)=8.00ms.τ=RC=(1.00× 10 3 Ω)(8.00μF)=8.00ms. size 12{τ= ital "RC"= \( "1000" %OMEGA \) \( 8 "." "00" μF \) =8 "." "00"" ms"} {}
21.84

Solution for (b)

In the first 8.00 ms, the voltage (10.0 kV) declines to 0.368 of its initial value. That is:

V=0.368V0= 3.680×103 V at t=8.00ms.V=0.368V0= 3.680×103 V at t=8.00ms. size 12{t=8 "." "00"" ms"} {}
21.85

(Notice that we carry an extra digit for each intermediate calculation.) After another 8.00 ms, we multiply by 0.368 again, and the voltage is

V = 0.368 V = 0.368 3.680 × 10 3 V = 1.354 × 10 3 V at t = 16.0 ms. V = 0.368 V = 0.368 3.680 × 10 3 V = 1.354 × 10 3 V at t = 16.0 ms.
21.86

Similarly, after another 8.00 ms, the voltage is

V ′′ = 0.368 V = ( 0.368 ) ( 1.354 × 10 3 V ) = 498 V at t = 24 .0 ms. V ′′ = 0.368 V = ( 0.368 ) ( 1.354 × 10 3 V ) = 498 V at t = 24 .0 ms.
21.87

Discussion

So after only 24.0 ms, the voltage is down to 498 V, or 4.98% of its original value.Such brief times are useful in heart defibrillation, because the brief but intense current causes a brief but effective contraction of the heart. The actual circuit in a heart defibrillator is slightly more complex than the one in Figure 21.42, to compensate for magnetic and AC effects that will be covered in Magnetism.

Check Your Understanding

When is the potential difference across a capacitor an emf?

Solution

Only when the current being drawn from or put into the capacitor is zero. Capacitors, like batteries, have internal resistance, so their output voltage is not an emf unless current is zero. This is difficult to measure in practice so we refer to a capacitor’s voltage rather than its emf. But the source of potential difference in a capacitor is fundamental and it is an emf.

PhET Explorations: Circuit Construction Kit (DC only)

An electronics kit in your computer! Build circuits with resistors, light bulbs, batteries, and switches. Take measurements with the realistic ammeter and voltmeter. View the circuit as a schematic diagram, or switch to a life-like view.

Figure 21.45 Circuit Construction Kit (DC only)
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