# The RC Circuit. Pre-lab questions. Introduction. The RC Circuit

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1 The RC Circuit Pre-lab questions 1. What is the meaning of the time constant, RC? 2. Show that RC has units of time. 3. Why isn t the time constant defined to be the time it takes the capacitor to become fully charged or discharged? 4. Explain conceptually why the time constant is larger for increased resistance. 5. What does an oscilloscope measure? 6. Why can t we use a multimeter to measure the voltage in the second half of this lab? 7. Draw and label a graph that shows the voltage across a capacitor that is charging and discharging (as in this experiment). 8. Set up a data table for part one. (V, t (0-300s in 20s intervals, 360, and 420s)) Introduction The goal in this lab is to observe the time-varying voltages in several simple circuits involving a capacitor and resistor. In the first part, you will use very simple tools to measure the voltage as a function of time: a multimeter and a stopwatch. Your lab write-up will deal primarily with data taken in this part. In the second part of the lab, you will use an oscilloscope, a much more sophisticated and powerful laboratory instrument, to observe time behavior of an RC circuit on a much faster timescale. Your observations in this part will be mostly qualitative, although you will be asked to make several rough measurements using the oscilloscope. Part 1. Capacitor Discharging Through a Resistor You will measure the voltage across a capacitor as a function of time as the capacitor discharges through a resistor. The simple circuit you will use is shown in Figure 1. The capacitor, C, is an electrolytic capacitor of approximately 1000 F or 10-3 F, with a manufacturing tolerance of ±20%. The resistance of the Figure 1 resistor, R, is 100k (10 5 ohms), with a tolerance of ±5%. DMM represents the digital multimeter used to measure DC voltage across the capacitor. The idea is simple: by closing switch S, you will charge up the capacitor to approximately 10 volts using the adjustable power supply. The capacitor is connected in parallel with a resistor, so that when you open the switch the capacitor will begin discharging through the resistor. Using a stopwatch and multimeter, you will record the capacitor voltage every 20 seconds until the capacitor has almost completely discharged. The goal is to examine the exponential decay of this RC circuit. Department of Physics and Astronomy 73

2 Part 2. The Series RC Circuit and the Oscilloscope switch R Figure 2 C o-scope We shall use the oscilloscope to study charging and discharging of a capacitor in a simple RC circuit similar to the one shown in Fig. 2. In place of the multimeter used in the first part of lab, the oscilloscope will be used to measure the voltage across the capacitor. More about the oscilloscope can be found in the Reference section at the end of this experiment. Assume the capacitor has zero charge on its plates and the switch is then put in position 1 as shown. This puts the resistor and capacitor in series with the power supply. Current flows and the capacitor charges up. How does the magnitude of the resistance affect the speed of charging? If R is small, then when the switch is initially switched to position 1, current will flow easily and the charge Q on the capacitor will build up quickly. Simultaneously, the potential difference across the capacitor increases until it equals the potential difference applied to the circuit from the power supply, V. Current will then no longer flow. If on the other hand, R is large, then a smaller current flows initially and it takes a longer time for the capacitor to charge. It can be shown theoretically that the voltage across the charging capacitor in the circuit described above is: V V e. C t / RC (1 ) This discussion is correct only for the charging of the capacitor. What happens if the switch is now moved to position 2? This takes the power supply out of the circuit. The capacitor now 74 University of North Carolina

3 discharges through the resistor until there is no potential difference between the plates. This is the same situation you studied in Part 1. The voltage across the discharging capacitor is given by: V V e t / RC C. The product RC is called the time constant. With the switch in position 2, VR VC. Later, at t = 1 RC, the voltage across the resistor VR V e = V. After this time, the potential difference across the resistor has been reduced to about 37% of its initial value, V. You will observe the potential difference across the capacitor as a function of time for a circuit containing a charging and discharging capacitor. Using this data and equation above, you can estimate the value of the product RC and compare this value with the known value of RC. Why find the time constant? The time constant is a characteristic of all exponential curves and tells us, in a single number, how fast or slow the curve is rising or decaying. For any exponential function, knowing the time constant tells us how long it takes for that function to fall to 1/e, or ~37%, of its initial value for a decay; or how long it will take for a rising exponential function to reach (1 1/e), or ~63% of its final value. For example, under ideal conditions, the number of bacteria in a culture grows exponentially, and the growth can be described by an exponential equation: N(t) = Noe kt, where No is the number of bacteria initially present, N(t) is the number present some time t later, and k is the time constant, indicating how fast the culture will grow. Procedure Part 1. Capacitor Discharging Through a Resistor 1. Fully discharge your capacitor. Measure the capacitance of your capacitor using the capacitance meter provided by your instructor. Note the accuracy rating for the capacitance meter you used (see Appendix Instrument Accuracy), and use this to estimate the uncertainty of your reading. Measure also the resistance of the resistor using the multimeter, and look up the accuracy of the meter for the range you used. 2. Again, make sure the capacitor is fully discharged. Assemble the circuit shown in Fig. 1 using banana plug cables. NOTE THE CAPACITOR HAS + AND LEADS. Be sure the + end is connected to the positive (RED) connector on the power supply and the end is connected to the negative (BLACK) connector. THE CAPACITOR WILL EXPLODE IF LEFT CONNECTED BACKWARDS TO THE POWER SUPPLY. 3. Turn on the digital multimeter and set the selector switch to measure DC voltage. Locate the Data Hold button on the meter, labeled either DATA-H or DATA HOLD. When this button is pushed once, the meter display freezes to display the voltage present when the button was pushed. A DH symbol will appear in the display. Pushing the Data Hold button again releases the display to show the current circuit voltage. Department of Physics and Astronomy 75

6 The oscilloscope is such an important tool for scientists that learning how to use one is a major goal of this laboratory. Oscilloscopes provide information about the time varying voltages in a circuit. The oscilloscope works very much like a TV picture tube, where the image you see on its screen is generated by an electromagetically deflected beam of electrons fired from an electron gun located at the back of the tube. The internal circuitry of the oscilloscope itself is quite complex, but the basic operation can be understood by considering several controls. The gain (volts/div) knob increases or decreases vertical size of the trace on the screen. The number of cycles viewable on the screen (along the horizontal axis) at one time is called the sweep rate and is controlled by the sweep (sec/div) knob. The Trigger system lets you select just the right time to begin a trace on the screen, and ensures that every successive pass by the electron beam is redrawn from exactly the same spot on the waveform so that you see a stable pattern. It is helpful to think of the function generator as a switch that opens and closes very rapidly, many times per second. Each time the switch is closed, the oscilloscope triggers on the left side of its display so that what you see is the response of the circuit to the closing of the switch. This is repeated may times per second so that what you see on the screen seems to be a fixed image. This is closely related to the way televisions work. The Coupling switch (marked AC-GND-DC, beneath the Volts/Div knob) should match the type of signal being measured. Many electrical signals have both AC and DC components. Often you are interested in only the AC part of a signal - setting the coupling for AC will feed the incoming signal through a capacitor, which filters out the DC component and passes the AC component undisturbed. Setting the coupling to DC will pass all of a signal, and GND will ground the signal so that you should see only a straight line, corresponding to zero volts. Exercises: Learning to use the Tektronix 2225 and 2213 Oscilloscope 1. Obtaining a baseline trace Before turning on the scope, you should set all of the front-panel controls as follows: Set all horizontal switches to the left. (Don't confuse switches with knobs) Set all vertical switches up. Set CAL knobs to detent position (all the way clockwise, they should click into place). Set all other knobs midrange, except the Trigger VAR HOLDOFF knob, which should be set all the way counterclockwise, to the Norm position. Set Channel 1 (CH 1) Volts/Div to 2.0 V (sometimes called the 'gain') Set Sec/Div to 0.2 ms/div (this is called the 'sweep rate') Set CH1 coupling (AC-GND-DC) to AC Turn on power After a few seconds a trace should appear on the screen. Adjust intensity and focus as needed, and center the line using the horizontal and vertical POSITION knobs. 78 University of North Carolina

7 2. Making Measurements Set the signal generator to produce a sine wave of frequency of approximately 1kHz: turn the Function knob to its center position, the Frequency Multiplier knob to 1K and the Frequency knob to about 1, and set Attenuation to 0. Connect the signal generator to the CH1 input of the scope, turn it on and increase the power until the wave fills about half of the screen. Turn the CH1 vertical position knob to align the bottom of the wave to one of the bottom horizontal graticule lines (a graticule is any of the solid lines on the oscilloscope screen). Turn the horizontal position knob(s) until a wave peak crosses the center vertical graticule line. To measure the voltage amplitude of the sine wave, count the number of major and minor vertical divisions between the bottom and top of the wave. Multiply the number of divisions by the VOLTS/DIV readout. The result is twice the voltage amplitude. For example, if there are 3 major divisions (graticule lines) and 3 minor divisions (each tick marks a fifth of a division), then twice the amplitude is 2 volts/div times 3.6 divisions, or 7.2 volts. So amplitude equals 3.6 volts. To measure the period of the sine wave, we will take measurements from the waveform on the oscilloscope display, instead of using the frequency from the signal generator dial. Turn the horizontal position knob to line up the peak of the wave with one of the vertical graticule lines. Count the number of horizontal divisions in one wave cycle. You can adjust vertical position to make counting easier, if you like. To find the period of the wave, multiply the SEC/DIV setting by the number of divisions in one wave cycle. You can calculate the frequency from this period measurement. Now without adjusting the signal generator in any way, change the oscilloscope settings: set the volts/div to 5 volts/div, and the sweep rate to 0.5 ms/div. Again measure the potential difference and frequency of the wave. Your measurements should be the same as before: by changing oscilloscope settings you are not altering the signal you are observing, just changing the way you see it. Now try adjusting the volts/div and sweep rate by several clicks in either direction, just to see what happens. 3. Defining Zero Volts This procedure must be done for the RC circuit lab. Note: trigger mode must be AUTO for this procedure, and not NORM. Set the CH1 coupling switch to GND (this is the switch below the volts/div knob). Then adjust the position of the line on the screen using the vertical CH1 position knob: move it to a horizontal graticule. This horizontal graticule will now represent zero volts. Switch the coupling back to AC. Department of Physics and Astronomy 79

8 4. What to Do When a Signal is Unstable or Non-Existent Adjust the Trigger LEVEL knob. Adjust the VOLTS/DIV knob and/or the sweep rate - the trace may simply be off scale. Adjust the focus and intensity. See if you can get a baseline trace as in step 3. If you can get a trace then whatever is providing the signal may be faulty. 80 University of North Carolina

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