Capacitors and inductors
A capacitor is a device capable of storing electrical energy. Next to the resistor, the capacitor is the most commonly encountered component in electrical circuits. Capacitors are used extensively in electrical and electronic circuits. For example, capacitors are used to smooth rectified a.c. outputs, they are used in telecommunication equipment – such as radio receivers – for tuning to the required frequency, they are used in time delay circuits, in electrical filters, in oscillator circuits, and in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in medical body scanners, to name but a few practical applications. Figure 41.1 shows a capacitor consisting of a pair of parallel metal plates X and Y separated by an insulator, which could be air. Since the plates are electrical conductors each will contain a large number of mobile electrons. Because the plates are connected to a d.c. supply the electrons on plate X , which have a small negative charge, will be attracted to the positive pole of the supply and will be repelled from the negative pole of the supply on to plate Y . X will become positively charged due to its shortage of electrons whereas Y will have a negative charge due to its surplus of electrons. The difference in charge between the plates results in a p.d. existing between them, the flow of electrons dying away and ceasing when the p.d. between the plates equals the supply voltage. The plates are then said to be charged and there exists an electric field between them. Figure 41.2 shows a side view of the plates with the field represented by ‘lines of electrical flux’. If the plates are
disconnected from the supply and connected together through a resistor the surplus of electrons on the negative plate will flow through the resistor to the positive plate. This is called discharging. The current flow decreases to zero as the charges on the plates reduce. The current flowing in the resistor causes it to liberate heat showing that energy is stored in the electric field.