# Lab 4 - Capacitors & RC Circuits

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1 Lab 4 Capacitors & RC Circuits L41 Name Date Partners Lab 4 Capacitors & 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. Arbitrarily Shaped Capacitor Plates equal and opp charges Cylindrical Capacitor Parallel Plate Capacitor Figure 4.1: Some different capacitor geometries and the U.S. Dept. of Education (FIPSE),

2 L42 Lab 4 Capacitors & RC Circuits 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. 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. The circuit symbol for a capacitor is a simple pair of lines as shown in Figure 4.2. Note that it is similar to the symbol for a battery, except that both parallel lines are the same length for the capacitor. Figure 12: The circuit diagram symbol for a capacitor Figure 4.2: The circuit diagram symbol for a capacitor In Investigation 1 we will measure the dependence of capacitance on area and separation distance. In Investigation 1 we shall learn how capacitance reacts 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 4.3.) 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 (4.1) 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. and the U.S. Dept. of Education (FIPSE),

3 Lab 4 Capacitors & RC Circuits L43 d = separation A = area V = voltage q V d A q Figure 4.3: A parallel plate capacitor with a voltage V across it 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? Do this in prelab before coming to lab. C q / V 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? Because C = q/v, how must the capacitance change? Do this before coming to lab. The unit of capacitance is the farad F named after Michael Faraday. One farad is equal to one coulomb/volt. As you will demonstrate to yourself shortly, one farad is a very large capacitance. Thus, actual capacitances are usually 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 and the U.S. Dept. of Education (FIPSE),

4 L44 Lab 4 Capacitors & RC Circuits [Note that m, µ, and U when written on a capacitor all stand for a multiplier of Yes, it is confusing!] 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 catalog, directory or manual of some kind two sheets of aluminum foil (see Figure 4.4) one or more textbooks or catalogs as weight digital multimeter and clip leads ruler with a centimeter scale digital caliper collection of capacitors at front of room You can construct a parallel plate capacitor out of two rectangular sheets of aluminum foil separated by pieces of paper. Pages in a catalog or 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 sheets down with something heavy like some textbooks. The digital multimeter will 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 4.4. Notice the connection tabs are offset. A nominal width for the foil is 20 cm, height of 27 cm, and tab of 3 cm x 3 cm. The precise measurements are not important. 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 200 or more mashed pages and divide by the number of sheets (1 sheet = 2 pages!). DO NOT EVER RIP PAGES OUT OF THE TELEPHONE BOOK! If you are keeping the separation constant, a good separation to use is about 5 pages (sheets). The area may be varied by using different size sheets of aluminum foil. One convenient way to and the U.S. Dept. of Education (FIPSE),

6 L46 Lab 4 Capacitors & RC Circuits Question 11: What is the function that best describes the relationship between separation and capacitance or between area and capacitance? How do your results compare with your prediction based on physical reasoning? Question 12: What difficulties did you encounter in making accurate measurements? The actual mathematical expression for the capacitance of a parallel plate capacitor of plate area A and plate separation d is derived in your textbook. The result is where C = κε 0 A d (4.2) ε 0 = 8.85pF / m and κ is the dimensionless dielectric constant. 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? Discuss. Question 14: Use the results of best fit to your 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 1.5 to 6. 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 hap and the U.S. Dept. of Education (FIPSE),

7 Lab 4 Capacitors & RC Circuits L47 pens to the voltage across a capacitor when it is placed in series with a resistor in a direct current circuit. You will need: 1. one current and one voltage probe 2. RLC circuit board 3. six alligator clip wires 4. #133 flashlight bulb and socket (on RLC circuit board) 5. capacitor ( 23,000 µf) 6. 6 V battery 7. single pole, double throw switch 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 4.5 using the 23,000 µf capacitor. Be sure that the positive and negative terminals of the capacitor are connected correctly (because of the kind of dielectric used in them, electrolytic capacitors have a definite polarity). Single pole, double throw 1 switch 2 6 V C Figure 4.5: Circuit to examine the charging and discharging of a capacitor through a light bulb 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. and the U.S. Dept. of Education (FIPSE),

8 L48 Lab 4 Capacitors & RC Circuits 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? 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 L04.A21 Capacitor Decay, and display VP B and CP A versus time. and the U.S. Dept. of Education (FIPSE),

9 Lab 4 Capacitors & RC Circuits L49 5. Connect the probes in the circuit as in Figure 4.6 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 4.6: Current and voltage probes connected to Figure 4.5 circuit 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. 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 1. Open the experiment file L04.A22 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 measure with the multimeter. 2. Replace the light bulb in your circuit (Figure 4.6) with a 100 Ω resistor, and the large capacitor with one in the 80 µf to 125 µf range. (Use the RLC circuit board.) Move the switch to position 2. and the U.S. Dept. of Education (FIPSE),

10 L410 Lab 4 Capacitors & RC Circuits 3. Begin graphing and immediately move the switch to position 1. Data taking will start when the switch is moved and cease automatically. 4. You should see a rising exponential curve which, for the charging of the capacitor, is: V (t) = V f ( 1 e t/rc ) (4.3) Use the Smart Tool to determine from your graph the time constant (the time for the voltage across the capacitor to reach 63% [actually 1 1/e] of its final value after the switch is moved to position 1). Record your data below. [Don t forget units!] Final voltage: V 63% of final voltage: V Time constant: ms 5. Convince yourself from the equation above that the time constant must equal exactly RC. Measure R and C with the multimeter (don t forget to disconnect them first from the circuit!), calculate the time constant, and compare to your data above. R: Ω C: µf RC: ms Question 27: Discuss the agreement between the time constant and RC. Try to identify the causes of the discrepancy in case of a disagreement over 10% 6. Click on the Fit icon and choose Inverse Exponent Fit to fit your data. This fit uses the form (where C is a constant here, not capacitance. A, B, and C are constants.) V = A(1 e Cx ) B Look at the mean square error. It should be much less than one. If not, perhaps you need to look at the fit of the data for t < 0. Choose the range of times that you want to fit. Write down parameters of a good fit: A: ± V and the U.S. Dept. of Education (FIPSE),

11 Lab 4 Capacitors & RC Circuits L411 B: ± V C: ± (ms) 1 7. Print one set of graphs for your group that shows your fit. Question 28: What is the significance of the parameters A and B in your fit of step 6? What should you expect their values to be? Question 29: Which of the parameters in the function that you fit allows you to find the time constant? Calculate the time constant from your fit of step 6, and compare to what you found from your measured values of R and capacitance C. Propagate the error and discuss the agreement. Try to explain what contributed to a better/worse agreement. Parameter(s): Calculated time constant from fit parameter(s): ± ms Calculated time constant RC (from step 5): ms Please clean up your lab area and the U.S. Dept. of Education (FIPSE),

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