Capacitor charging and discharging

Posted on Feb 6, 2014

Large-value capacitors are required for this experiment to produce time constants slow enough to track with a voltmeter and stopwatch. Be warned that most large capacitors are of the `electrolytic` type, and they are polarity sensitive! One terminal of each capacitor should be marked with a definite polarity sign. Usually capacitors of the size specified have a negative (-) marking or series of negative markings pointing

Capacitor charging and discharging
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toward the negative terminal. Very large capacitors are often polarity-labeled by a positive (+) marking next to one terminal. Failure to heed proper polarity will almost surely result in capacitor failure, even with a source voltage as low as 6 volts. When electrolytic capacitors fail, they typically explode, spewing caustic chemicals and emitting foul odors. Please, try to avoid this! Build the "charging" circuit and measure voltage across the capacitor when the switch is closed. Notice how it increases slowly over time, rather than suddenly as would be the case with a resistor. You can "reset" the capacitor back to a voltage of zero by shorting across its terminals with a piece of wire. The "time constant" ( ) of a resistor capacitor circuit is calculated by taking the circuit resistance and multiplying it by the circuit capacitance. For a 1 k © resistor and a 1000 µF capacitor, the time constant should be 1 second. This is the amount of time it takes for the capacitor voltage to increase approximately 63. 2% from its present value to its final value: the voltage of the battery. It is educational to plot the voltage of a charging capacitor over time on a sheet of graph paper, to see how the inverse exponential curve develops. In order to plot the action of this circuit, though, we must find a way of slowing it down. A one-second time constant doesn`t provide much time to take voltmeter readings! We can increase this...

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