# Lab 5 - Capacitors and RC Circuits

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1 Lab 5 Capacitors and RC Circuits L51 Name Date Partners Lab 5 Capacitors and RC Circuits OBJECTIVES To define capacitance and to learn to measure it with a digital multimeter. To explore how the capacitance of conducting parallel plates is related to the area of the plates and the separation between them. To explore the effect of connecting a capacitor in a circuit in series with a resistor or bulb and a voltage source. To explore how the charge on a capacitor and the current through it change with time in a circuit containing a capacitor, a resistor and a voltage source. OVERVIEW Capacitors are widely used in electronic circuits where it is important to store charge and/or energy or to trigger a timed electrical event. For example, circuits with capacitors are designed to do such diverse things as setting the flashing rate of Christmas lights, selecting what station a radio picks up, and storing electrical energy to run an electronic flash unit. Any pair of conductors that can be charged electrically so that one conductor has positive charge and the other conductor has an equal amount of negative charge on it is called a capacitor. A capacitor can be made up of two arbitrarily shaped blobs of metal or it can have any number of regular symmetric shapes such as one hollow metal sphere inside another, or a metal rod inside a hollow metal cylinder. Arbitrarily Shaped Capacitor Plates equal and opp charges Cylindrical Capacitor Parallel Plate Capacitor Figure 5.1: Some different capacitor geometries. The type of capacitor that is the easiest to analyze is the parallel plate capacitor. We will focus exclusively on these. Although many of the most interesting properties of capacitors come in the operation of AC (alternating current) circuits (where current first moves in one direction and then in the other), we will limit our present study to the behavior of capacitors in DC (direct current) circuits.

2 L52 Lab 5 Capacitors and RC Circuits The circuit symbol for a capacitor is a simple pair of lines as shown in Figure 5.2. Note that it is similar to the symbol for a battery, except that both parallel lines are the same length for the capacitor. Figure 5.2: The circuit diagram symbol for a capacitor In Investigation 1 we will measure the dependence of capacitance on area and separation distance. In Investigation 2 we shall learn how capacitances react when charge builds up on their two surfaces. We will investigate what happens to this charge when the voltage source is removed and taken out of the circuit. INVESTIGATION 1: Capacitance, Area and Separation The usual method for transferring equal and opposite charges to the plates of a capacitor is to use a battery or power supply to produce a potential difference between the two conductors. Electrons will then flow from one conductor (leaving a net positive charge) and to the other (making its net charge negative) until the potential difference produced between the two conductors is equal to that of the battery. (See Figure 5.3.) In general, the amount of charge needed to produce a potential difference equal to that of the battery will depend on the size, shape, location of the conductors relative to each other, and the properties of the material between the conductors. The capacitance of a given capacitor is defined as the ratio of the magnitude of the charge, q (on either one of the conductors) to the voltage (potential difference), V, applied across the two conductor: C q/v (5.1) d = separation A = area V = voltage q V d A q Figure 5.3: A parallel plate capacitor with a voltage V across it.

3 Lab 5 Capacitors and RC Circuits L53 Activity 11: Predicting the Dependence of Capacitance on Area and Separation. Consider two identical metal plates of area A that are separated by a distance d. The space between the plates is filled with a nonconducting material (air, for instance). Suppose each plate is connected to one of the terminals of a battery. Prediction 11: Suppose you now double the area of each plate. Does the voltage between the plates change (recall that the plates are still connected to the battery)? Does the amount of charge on each plate change? Since C = q/v, how must the capacitance change? Prediction 12: Now return to the original capacitor. The easiest way to reason the dependence of capacitance on separation distance is to charge the plates first and then disconnect the battery. After we do that, the separation distance is doubled. Can the charge on the plates change? Does the electric field between the plates change (assume ideal conditions: plates large compared to separation distance)? How does the voltage between the plates change? Since C = q/v, how must the capacitance change? The unit of capacitance is the farad, F, named after Michael Faraday. One farad is equal to one coulomb/volt. As you should be able to demonstrate to yourself shortly, the farad is a very large capacitance. Thus, actual capacitances are often expressed in smaller units with alternate notation as shown below: micro farad: 1 µf = 10 6 F nano farad: 1 nf = 10 9 F pico farad: 1 pf = F Note: m, µ, and U when written on a capacitor all stand for a multiplier of There are several types of capacitors typically used in electronic circuits including disk capacitors, foil capacitors, electrolytic capacitors and so on. You should examine some typical capacitors. There should be a collection of such old capacitors at the front of the room. To complete the next few activities you will need to construct a parallel plate capacitor and use a multimeter to measure capacitance. You ll need the following items: A fat UVa directory

4 L54 Lab 5 Capacitors and RC Circuits two sheets of aluminum foil about the size of a directory page one or several massive objects (e.g., catalogs) digital multimeter with a capacitance mode and clip leads ruler with a centimeter scale digital calipers You can construct a parallel plate capacitor out of two rectangular sheets of aluminum foil separated by pieces of paper. Pages in the UVa directory work quite well as the separator for the foil sheets. You can slip the two foil sheets on either side of paper sheets, and weigh the book down with something heavy like some textbooks. The digital multimeter can be used to measure the capacitance of your capacitor. Activity 12: Measuring How Capacitance Depends on Area or on Separation Be sure that you understand how to use the multimeter to measure capacitance and how to connect a capacitor to it. If you are sitting at an even numbered table, then you will devise a way to measure how the capacitance depends on the foil area. If sitting at an odd numbered table then you will devise a way to measure how the capacitance depends on the separation between foils. Of course, you must keep the other variable (separation or area) constant. When you measure the capacitance of your parallel plates, be sure that the aluminum foil pieces are pressed together as uniformly as possible (mash them hard!) and that they don t make electrical contact with each other. We suggest you cut the aluminum foil so it does not stick out past the pages except where you make the connections as shown in Figure 5.4. Notice the connection tabs are offset. 27 cm 3 cm 3 cm 3 cm 20 cm Figure 5.4: Shapes of aluminum foil for capacitors. Hint: To accurately determine the separation distance, simply count the number of sheets and multiply by the nominal thickness of a single sheet. To determine the nominal sheet thickness, use the caliper to measure the thickness of 100 or more mashed sheets and divide by the number of sheets. [Note: If you use the page numbers to help with the counting, don t forget that there are two numbered pages per sheet!] If you are keeping the separation constant, a good separation to use is about five sheets. The area may be varied by folding one aluminum sheet in half and so on. Make sure you accurately estimate the area of overlap.

6 L56 Lab 5 Capacitors and RC Circuits where C = κε 0 A foil d (5.2) and κ is the dimensionless dielectric constant. ε 0 = 8.85pF / m Question 13: Do your predictions and/or observations on the variation of capacitance with plate area and separation seem to agree qualitatively with this result? Question 14: Use the results of best fit to your data to calculate a value of κ using this equation. Show your calculations. What value of the dielectric constant of paper do you determine? (The actual dielectric constant varies considerably depending on what is in the paper and how it was processed.) Typical values range from 1.2 to 2.5. κ: INVESTIGATION 2: Charge Buildup and Decay in Capacitors Capacitors can be connected with other circuit elements. When they are connected in circuits with resistors, some interesting things happen. In this investigation you will explore what happens to the voltage across a capacitor when it is placed in series with a resistor in a direct current circuit. You will need: one current and one voltage probe capacitor 820nF 10kΩ resistor six alligator clip wires #133 flashlight bulb and socket capacitor ( 23,000 µf) 6 V battery single pole, double throw switch

7 Lab 5 Capacitors and RC Circuits L57 You can first use a bulb in series with an ultra capacitor with very large capacitance (> 0.02 F!). These will allow you to see what happens. Then later on, to obtain more quantitative results, the bulb will be replaced by a resistor. Activity 21: Observations with a Capacitor, Battery and Bulb 1. Set up the circuit shown in Figure 5.5 using the 23,000 µf capacitor. Be sure that the positive and negative terminals of the capacitor are connected correctly! Because of the chemistry of their dielectric, electrolytic capacitors have a definite polarity. If hooked up backwards, it will behave like a bad capacitor in parallel with a bad resistor. Single pole, double throw 1 switch 2 6 V C Figure 5.5: Question 21: Sketch the complete circuit when the switch is in position 1 and when it is in position 2. For clarity, don t draw components or wires that aren t contributing to the function of the circuit. position 1 position 2 2. Move the switch to position 2. After several seconds, switch it to position 1, and describe what happens to the brightness of the bulb. Question 22: Draw a sketch on the axes below of the approximate brightness of the bulb as a function of time for the above case of moving the switch to position 1 after it has been in position 2. Let t = 0 be the time when the switch was moved to position 1. to position 1. Brightness Time [sec] 3. Now move the switch back to position 2. Describe what happens to the bulb. Did the bulb light again without the battery in the circuit?

8 L58 Lab 5 Capacitors and RC Circuits Question 23: Draw a sketch on the axes below of the approximate brightness of the bulb as a function of time when it is placed across a charged capacitor without the battery present, i.e. when the switch is moved to position 2 after being in position 1 for several seconds. Let t = 0 be when the switch is moved to position 2. to position 1. Brightness Time [sec] Question 24: Discuss why the bulb behaves in this way. Is there charge on the capacitor after the switch is in position 1 for a while? What happens to this charge when the switch is moved back to position 2? 4. Open the experiment file L05A21 Capacitor Decay, and display VP B and CP A versus time. 5. Connect the probes in the circuit as in Figure 5.6 to measure the current through the light bulb and the potential difference across the capacitor. Single pole, double throw 1 switch 2 6 V CP A C VP B Figure 5.6: 6. Move the switch to position After ten seconds or so, begin graphing. When the graph lines appear, move the switch to position 1. When the current and voltage stop changing, move the switch back to position Print out one set of graphs for your group. 9. Indicate on the graphs the times when the switch was moved from position 2 to position 1, and when it was moved back to position 2 again.

9 Lab 5 Capacitors and RC Circuits L59 Question 25: Does the actual behavior over time observed on the current graph agree with your sketches in Questions 22 and 23? How does the brightness of the bulb depend on the direction and magnitude of the current through it? Question 26: Based on the graph of potential difference across the capacitor, explain why the bulb lights when the switch is moved from position 1 to position 2 (when the bulb is connected to the capacitor with no battery in the circuit)? Activity 22: The Rise of Voltage in an RC Circuit We will now look at a circuit which we can quantitatively analyze. A light bulb, as we have seen, has a very nonlinear relationship between the applied voltage and the current through it. A resistor, on the other hand, obeys Ohm s Law: the voltage across a resistor is proportional to the current through the resistor. Similarly, the voltage across a capacitor is proportion to the charge on the capacitor. Figure 5.7: Consider Figure 5.7 (the same as Figure 5.5, but with the bulb replaced by a resistor). We will assume that the switch has been in position 2 for a very long time so that the capacitor is fully discharged. [We will soon get a sense of how long one must wait for it to be very long.] We have seen that when the capacitor is fully discharged, there will be no current flowing in the circuit.. Now we consider what happens when we move the switch to position 1. From Kirchoff s Junction Rule (charge conservation), we can see that any current that flows through the capacitor also flows through the resistor and the battery (they are in series): I capacitor = I resistor = I battery (5.3) From Kirchoff s Loop Rule (energy conservation), we see that the voltage drop across the resistor plus the voltage drop across the capacitor is equal to the voltage rise across the battery:

10 L510 Lab 5 Capacitors and RC Circuits Figure 5.8: V resistor V capacitor = I resistor R q capacitor /C = V battery (5.4) As I = dq/dt, we have a simple differential equation: Integrating this yields: Rdq/dtq/C = V battery (5.5) q(t) = CV battery ( 1 e t/rc ) (5.6) Finally, the voltage across the capacitor (which we can measure) will be given by: V capacitor (t) = V battery ( 1 e t/rc ) (5.7) Now we can see what a long time means. As the argument of the exponential function is unitless, the quantity RC must have units of time. RC is called the time constant of the circuit. Initially, at t = 0, there is no charge on the capacitor and all of the battery s voltage will be across the resistor. A current (equal to V/R) will then flow, charging the capacitor. As the capacitor charges, the voltage across the capacitor will increase while that across the resistor will decrease. For times short relative to RC, the charge on the capacitor will increase essentially linearly 1 with respect to time. As the capacitor charges, however, the voltage across it will increase, forcing the voltage across the resistor to decrease. This means that the current will also decrease, which will lead to a drop in the rate of charging. Asymptotically (for times large relative to RC), the capacitor s voltage will approach the battery s voltage and there will be no further current flow. 1. Open the experiment file L05A22 RC Circuit. This will take data at a much higher rate than before, and will allow us to graph the charging of the capacitor, using a smaller C which we can readily measure with the multimeter. 2. Replace the light bulb in your circuit (Figure 5.6) with a 10 kω resistor (mounted on the plug), and replace the large blue capacitor with 820 nf capacitor (also mounted on a different plug). Move the switch to position Begin graphing and immediately move the switch to position 1. Data taking will start when the switch is moved and cease automatically. 1 1 e x x, for x 1.

12 L512 Lab 5 Capacitors and RC Circuits using the Curve Fit Editor. Type in the initial values of the parameters that are closer to what you are expecting and reapply the fit. Write down parameters of a good fit: A: ± V B: ± (s) 1 C: ± V 8. Print one set of graphs for your group. Question 28: Calculate the time constant from your fit (show your work), and propagate the error from the fit parameter to the value of the time constant. Compare the two measurements to what you found from your measured values of R and C. Discuss the agreement of each method with prediction. Try to explain what contributed to a better/worse agreement for each method. Time constant from the fit: ± ms Time constant from 63% estimate: ms Predicted RC (from step 4): ± ms Please clean up your lab area

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