Time Constant Circuits
DC Electric Circuits
|Don’t just sit there! Build something!!|
Learning to mathematically analyze circuits requires much study and practice. Typically, students practice by working through lots of sample problems and checking their answers against those provided by the textbook or the instructor. While this is good, there is a much better way.
You will learn much more by actually building and analyzing real circuits, letting your test equipment provide the “answers” instead of a book or another person. For successful circuit-building exercises, follow these steps:
- Carefully measure and record all component values prior to circuit construction.
- Draw the schematic diagram for the circuit to be analyzed.
- Carefully build this circuit on a breadboard or other convenient medium.
- Check the accuracy of the circuit’s construction, following each wire to each connection point, and verifying these elements one-by-one on the diagram.
- Mathematically analyze the circuit, solving for all values of voltage, current, etc.
- Carefully measure those quantities, to verify the accuracy of your analysis.
- If there are any substantial errors (greater than a few percent), carefully check your circuit’s construction against the diagram, then carefully re-calculate the values and re-measure.
Avoid very high and very low resistor values, to avoid measurement errors caused by meter “loading”. I recommend resistors between 1 kΩ and 100 kΩ, unless, of course, the purpose of the circuit is to illustrate the effects of meter loading!
One way you can save time and reduce the possibility of error is to begin with a very simple circuit and incrementally add components to increase its complexity after each analysis, rather than building a whole new circuit for each practice problem. Another time-saving technique is to re-use the same components in a variety of different circuit configurations. This way, you won’t have to measure any component’s value more than once.
The circuit shown here is called a relaxation oscillator. It works on the principles of capacitor charging over time (an RC circuit), and of the hysteresis of a gas-discharge bulb: the fact that the voltage required to initiate conduction through the bulb is significantly greater than the voltage below which the bulb ceases to conduct current.
In this circuit, the neon bulb ionizes at a voltage of 70 volts, and stops conducting when the voltage falls below 30 volts:
Graph the capacitor’s voltage over time as this circuit is energized by the DC source. Note on your graph at what times the neon bulb is lit:
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