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Charge, Current, and Capacitance

Charge Charge is fundamental property of matter and its units are coulombs. An individual electron or proton has a quantified charge of 1x10-19 C, the electron is negatively charged (- 1x10-19 C and a proton is positively charge (+1x10-19 C). A normal atom has the same number of electrons and protons and its total charge is zero. Opposite charges attract each other and same charges repel each other. Current The amount of charge passing through a point over a given period produces an electric current. Such that I = Q/t where I is the current in amps, Q is charge in coulombs and t is time in seconds. Electric current supplies our modern day appliance with the energy to operate the device. While there are many different ways to supply electric current to a device, it would also be beneficial to be able to store an accumulated amount of charge to be used later. Capacitance A capacitor is a device that can store a charge. A capacitor is a device that consists of two conductive plates separated by a small distance; with the distance and surface area of the plates playing a role in the total capacitance of the capacitor. A capacitor is charged by passing a current through it. One plate of the capacitor will acquire a positive charge and the other a negative charge. As the charge builds up on each plate, a voltage potential builds up between the plates. This voltage potential across the capacitor will continue to build until it matches the voltage source. The amount of charge stored in a capacitor is determined by the equation Q = CV Where Q is the stored charge in coulombs, C is the capacitance of the device in farads and V is the DC voltage across the device. [2] [1]

A device that you are familiar with that uses a capacitor to store a charge is the flash unit of a camera. This charge when discharged through the lamp produces the flash. Defibrillators are also a device that uses a capacitor to store a charge.

This experiment will explore the relationship between charge, current and capacitance. First, let us discuss another device that is used in this experiment. A resistor opposes the flow of an electric current. Ohms law is the relationship between current, resistance and voltage and its equation is shown below. I = V/R The resistor has a resistance in units of Ohms. In this experiment a known voltage will be supplied, when the switch is in the charged position the capacitor is charged. Switching to the discharge position allows the charge stored in the capacitor to dissipate through the resistor. A computer will be used to measured the voltage across the resistor and then using equation [3] the computer will calculate the current though the resistor. A graph on the computer screen will show a representation of current vs. time for the discharge of the capacitor through the resistor. The area under the graph of Current vs. time will yield the charge which was stored in the capacitor, this calculation is performed by the computer the results being in terms of Amp s. Looking at equation [1] and solving for Q it can be seen that Q = I t which has units of A s and is in agreement with the computer results. Combinations of capacitors There are two common methods of connecting multiple capacitors together, series and parallel, each are shown schematically in the diagrams below. A common purpose to connect capacitors in series or parallel is to create a new capacitance value. To determine the equivalent capacitance between the nodes A and B the equations [4] and [5] are used. [3]

Ceqv B B B B Capacitors in Series Capacitors in parallel


To solve for the equivalent capacitance the following equations are used. Parallel Series
C eqv = C1 + C2 + C3 Cn


C eqv

= 1


+ 1


+ 1



Energy Capacitors primary function is to store electro-static energy. This stored energy is a potential energy, which is stored and ready to do some form of work. A form of uses of this stored energy is to discharge through a flash lamp to produce light for a camera or produce the charge necessary to defibrillate a heart. The equation below quantifies the energy stored in a capacitor Energy = Procedure CV 2 2



Turn on the computer and select the file named capacitance. On the table, you will find two boxes. The blue box contains the switch used to charge and discharge the capacitor. The black box contains three unknown capacitors. The blue box has connections for three devices; Power Supply, capacitor and 750 Interface. The 750 Interface is the box located under the monitor, use the supplied wire and connect Port A on the interface box to this point. Likewise, make a connection from the DC power supply to the points labeled power. Lastly, make a connection from the black capacitor box C1 to the connections labeled capacitor. Position the switch to the discharge position. Replace the probes of the Digital Multi-meter(DMM) with wires from the wire bag. Connect the wires from the DMM across the power supply. Set the Digital meter to the 20V DC range. Adjust the voltage on the power supply until the meter displays 1V DC 0.05 V. Position the switch to charge position it should only take a second or two, until the capacitor is fully charged. On the computer, select the Start button. Now move the switch to the discharge position. A graph will be created and automatically stops when a fixed minimum voltage is reached. If it does not automatically stop, the problem may be that the wires going to the Interface box are not connected properly. Make certain that the red wire is connected to the red connector and the black wire to the black connector. On the computer display, the window with the graph has a frame next to it with a numeric value followed by micro-amps s. This value represents the measured charge Q on the capacitor C 1 . Enter this value into the table. Use equation [2] to determine the capacitance C 1 . Repeat steps 4 6 for voltage settings of 2 ,3 ,4 and 5 volts.







Determine the average value for C 1 . 8. 9. Repeat the process outlined above for C 2 and C 3 . Once all the capacitors values are determined, use these values to calculate the value of the equivalent capacitor as if all the capacitors were connected in series, equation [5]. Also calculated the equivalent value for them connected in parallel, equation [4]. Record your findings. Now experimentally verify your calculations. Connect the capacitors in series as illustrated in the figure below. Use the same procedure as outline in steps 3 7 to find the capacitance for the series combinations.


C1 C2 C3 Parallel 11. 12. Repeat for the capacitors connect in parallel.

C1 C2 C3 Series

Determine the energy stored in the capacitors. Use equation [6] and complete data sheet 2

Data Sheet 1
Q1 C C1 F Q2 C C2 F Q3 C C3 F

Volts 1v 2v 3v 4v 5v

Average value of C 1 = ___________ Average value of C 2 = ___________ Average value of C 3 = ___________

Calculated value of C 1 , C 2 , C 3 in parallel _______________ Calculated value of C 1 , C 2 , C 3 in series _______________ Volts 1 2 3 4 5 Q series C series Q parallel C parallel

Measured value of C 1 , C 2 , C 3 in parallel _______________ Measured value of C 1 , C 2 , C 3 in series _______________

Data Sheet 2 Energy

Capacitor value (F) C1 C2 C3 C series C parallel Stored Energy at 1V (Joules) Stored Energy at 5V (Joules)