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A capacitor is a device that stores energy in the electric field created between a pair of conductors on which equal but opposite electric charges have been placed. A capacitor is occasionally referred to using the older term condenser.

Various types of capacitors

SMD capacitors: electrolytic at the bottom line, ceramic above them !classic! ceramic and electrolytic capacitors at the right side for comparison

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" #istory $ %hysics o $." &verview o $.$ 'apacitance o $.( Stored energy o $.) #ydraulic model ( *n electric circuits o (." 'ircuits with D' sources o (.$ 'ircuits with A' sources o (.( 'apacitors and displacement current


$ Accelerometers o ). /his is the triboelectric effect.).. with reference to the device. 7en:amin ?ran+lin investigated the =eyden :ar. a term that is still occasionally used today.s discovery became widely +nown.. /he inner coating was connected to a rod that passed through the lid and ended in a metal sphere." 'apacitive %osition Sensors  ).arly capacitors were also +nown as condensers.) /uned circuits o ).nglish languages still use a word derived from !condensatore!. not in the water as others had assumed. *n &ctober "2). /hales of Miletus recorded that the Ancient 8ree+s could generate spar+s by rubbing balls of amber on spindles. *t was coined by Volta in "23$ @derived from the *talian condensatoreA." .nergy storage o ). von 9leist dramatically increased charge density. after the >niversity of =eyden where van Musschenbroe+ wor+ed.( %ower supply applications o ).2 /ransducer applications  ). the units of capacitance were in .2. 'apacitor-inductor duality ) Applications o ). a Dutch physicist %ieter van Musschenbroe+ independently invented a very similar capacitor in <anuary "2)0. A :ar is equivalent to about " n?. motor starters.. /his effect is the basis of the capacitor.$ Signal processing o )." Series or parallel arrangements o (.3 4eapons applications .0 1oise filters..s ability to store a higher density of electric charge than a normal isolated conductor.• • • (. the mechanical separation of charge in a dielectric.:ars. and proved that the charge was stored on the glass. &riginally.) 'apacitor networ+s  (. 7y layering the insulator between two metal plates. Physics Overview $ . .2. *deal and nonideal capacitors 0 'apacitor ha5ards and safety o History *n circa 066 7'.wald 8eorg von 9leist of %omerania invented the first recorded capacitor: a glass :ar coated inside and out with metal. li+e the ?rench condensateur or the 8erman Kondensator. *t was named the =eyden :ar. . 7efore 9leist. Signal coupling o ). and snubbers o ). Most nonB.

/he charge is stored at the surface of the plates. 4hen electric charge accumulates on the plates. at the boundary with the dielectric. the total charge in the capacitor is always 5ero. /hese two plates are conductive and are separated by an insulator or dielectric. an electric field is created in the region between the plates that is proportional to the amount of accumulated charge. 7ecause each plate stores an equal but opposite charge. /his electric field creates a potential difference V C E·d between the plates of this simple parallelBplate capacitor.A capacitor consists of two electrodes or plates. ( . each of which stores an opposite charge.

/he electrons in the molecules move or rotate the molecule toward the positively charged left plate. /he capacitance is proportional to the surface area of the conducting plate and inversely proportional to the distance between the plates.s capacitance @CA is a measure of the amount of charge @QA stored on each plate for a given potential difference or voltage @VA which appears between the plates: *n S* units. *t is also proportional to the permittivity of the dielectric @that is. a capacitor has a capacitance of one farad when one coulomb of charge causes a potential difference of one volt across the plates. /his process creates an opposing electric field that partially annuls the field created by the plates.A Capacitance /he capacitor. /he capacitance of a parallelBplate capacitor is given by: ) . values of capacitors are usually eDpressed in microfarads @E?A. @/he air gap is shown for clarity in a real capacitor. the dielectric is in direct contact with the plates. nanofarads @n?A or picofarads @p?A. Since the farad is a very large unit. nonBconductingA substance that separates the plates.

a capacitor can be modeled as a chamber with a fleDible diaphragm separating the input from the output. Stored energy As opposite charges accumulate on the plates of a capacitor due to the separation of charge. *n fact. a steadyBstate current cannot pass through it but a pulse or alternating current can be transmitted.ver increasing wor+ must be done against this ever increasing electric field as more charge is separated. the current through the capacitor results in the separation rather than the accumulation of electric charge. electrons accumulate on one plate and electrons are removed from the other plate.charging. /he energy stored is given by: where V is the voltage across the capacitor. /he energy @measured in :oules. this provides the correct characteristics: the pressure across the unit is proportional to the integral of the current. Hydraulic model As electrical circuitry can be modeled by fluid flow. /his separation of charge causes an electric field to develop between the plates of the capacitor giving rise to voltage across the plates. the capacitance of units connected in parallel is equivalent to the sum of their individual capacitances etc. As can be determined intuitively as well as mathematically. . /his is eDpressed mathematically as: .F"G where H is the permittivity of the dielectric. and therefore the electric field. 4hen there is a current through a capacitor. /his voltage V is directly proportional to the amount of charge separated I. in S*A stored in a capacitor is equal to the amount of wor+ required to establish the voltage across the capacitor.lectrons cannot directly pass across the dielectric from one plate of the capacitor to the other. /his process is commonly called . a voltage develops across the capacitor owing to the electric field of these charges. 7ut I is :ust the time integral of the current * through the capacitor. . the capacitor even though the capacitor is at all times electrically neutral. In electric circuits Circuits with DC sources . A is the area of the plates and d is the spacing between them.

the A' current alternately charges the plates in one direction and then the other. at no time do electrons actually cross between the plates. /hus. as shown above. '. *t can be shown that the A' voltage across the capacitor is in quadrature with the A' current through the capacitor. ?or this reason. the angular frequency measured in radians per second XC C capacitive reactance. by a quarter cycle. /hat is. /hat is. the voltage across the capacitor cannot eDceed the voltage of the source. /he amplitude of the voltage depends on the amplitude of the current divided by the product of the frequency of the current with the capacitance. Circuits with AC sources /he capacitor current due to an A' voltage or current source reverses direction periodically.outBofBphase. /he ratio of the voltage amplitude to the current amplitude is called the reactance of the capacitor. ?or this reason.second. it is commonly said that capacitors bloc+ D' current. the capacitor current is nonB5ero at all times during a cycle. #owever. A' current. the current leading the voltage phase angle. it is commonly said that capacitors . /his capacitive reactance is given by: where ω = 2πf. the reactance is inversely proportional to the frequency.pass. /hat is. the voltage and current are . measured in ohms f C frequency of A' in hert5 C C capacitance in farads and is analogous to the resistance of a resistor. ' is the capacitance in farads ?or circuits with a constant @D'A voltage source. measured in volts . Since the voltage across a capacitor is the integral of the current. 4ith the eDception of the instant that the current changes direction. 'learly. for very highBfrequency alternating currents the reactance approaches 5ero so that a capacitor is nearly a short circuit to a very high 0 .where * is the current flowing in the conventional direction. an equilibrium is reached where the voltage across the capacitor is constant and the current through the capacitor is 5ero. with sine waves in A' or signal circuits this results in a phase difference of J6 degrees. measured in amperes dV-dt is the time derivative of voltage.

Also significant is that the impedance is inversely proportional to the capacitance.t dissipate power. *n electrical circuits. ultimately by electromagnetic emission @see 7lac+ body radiationA. *n a tuned circuit such as a radio receiver. where the current lags the voltage by J6L. *n shunt. ?or an ideal capacitor. unli+e resistors and inductors for which impedances are linearly proportional to resistance and inductance respectively. as opposed to the inductor. /he negative sign indicates that the current leads the voltage by J6L for a sinusoidal signal. ': /he impedance in the frequency domain can be written as 2 . conductances sum. while reactive loads @analogous to a spring or frictionless moving ob:ectA retain the energy. but merely stores energy. resistive and reactive. the frequency selected is a function of the inductance @=A and the capacitance @'A in series. Kesistive loads @analogous to an ob:ect sliding on a rough surfaceA dissipate energy that enters them. capacitive reactance is the negative imaginary component of impedance. the reactance increases without bound so that a capacitor is nearly an open circuit to a very low frequency A' source. and is given by: /his is the frequency at which resonance occurs in an K=' series circuit. /his is why the series and shunt impedance formulae @given belowA are the inverse of the resistive case. Keactance is so called because the capacitor doesn. impedances sum. *n series. there are two types of load.frequency A' source. 'onversely. the capacitor current is proportional to the time rate of change of the voltage across the capacitor where the constant of proportionality is the capacitance. for very low frequency alternating currents. /he impedance of a capacitor is given by: where and is the imaginary unit. #ence. as in mechanics.

belowA. /o find their total equivalent capacitance @CeqA: /he current through capacitors in series stays the same.s correction to Ampere. the capacitive impedance is represented in the s domain by: Capacitors and displacement current /he physicist <ames 'ler+ MaDwell invented the concept of displacement current. to ma+e Ampere.s law remains valid. FeditG Capacitor networks A capacitor can be used to bloc+ the D' 'urrent flowing within the circuit and therefore have important applications in coupling of ac signals between amplifier stages. /o find their total capacitance: 3 . Although this interpretation has been abandoned. where he supposed that it corresponded to motion of dipole charges in the ether. /his frequency dependent behaviour accounts for most uses of the capacitor @see !Applications!. even in vacuum. #e interpreted this as a real motion of charges.s law consistent with conservation of charge in cases where charge is accumulating as in a capacitor. dD-dt. /his shows that a capacitor has a high impedance to lowBfrequency signals @when M is smallA and a low impedance to highBfrequency signals @when M is largeA. whilst preventing dc from passing. but the voltage across each capacitor can be different. 4hen using the =aplace transform in circuit analysis. Series or parallel arrangements 'apacitors in a parallel configuration each have the same potential difference @voltageA. /he sum of the potential differences @voltageA is equal to the total voltage.. MaDwell.

the total charge stored is the sum of the charge in each capacitor. <ust as two or more inductors can be magnetically coupled to ma+e a transformer. Another application is for use of polari5ed capacitors in alternating current circuits the capacitors are connected in series. *n practice. the ideal capacitor can be considered as an inverse of the ideal inductor. /he mutual ca acitance of two conductors is defined as the current that flows in one when the voltage across the other changes by unit voltage in unit time. 4hile in series. the charge on each capacitor is the same. rather than by minute differences in the capacitance values.*n parallel. a very large resistor might be connected across each capacitor to ensure that the total voltage is divided appropriately for the individual ratings. so that at any given time one of the capacitors is not conducting. &ne possible reason to connect capacitors in series is to increase the overall voltage rating. Applications 'apacitor %olari5ed 'apacitor Variable 'apacitor J . two or more charged conductors can be electrostatically coupled to ma+e a capacitor. Capacitor/inductor duality *n mathematical terms. because the voltageBcurrent equations of the two devices can be transformed into one another by eDchanging the voltage and current terms. in reverse polarity.

has enabled such components to allow batteries to be changed in electronic devices without the memory being lost. Power supply applications 'apacitors are commonly used in power supplies where they smooth the output of a full or half wave rectifier. a capacitor used primarily for D' charge storage is often drawn vertically in circuit diagrams with the lower. 'apacitors can be used in analog circuits as components of integrators or more compleD filters and in negative feedbac+ loop stabili5ation. the values of these capacitors are given not in farads but rather as a reactive power in voltBamperes reactive @VArA. or for energy storage for delivery during eDtreme pea+ demands. to ma+e the load appear to be mostly resistive. for eDample. 'apacitors are also used in parallel to interrupt units of a highBvoltage circuit brea+er in order to distribute the voltage between these units. 'apacitors are used in power factor correction. Energy storage A capacitor can store electric energy when disconnected from its charging circuit. for instance. to shunt away power line hum before it gets into the signal circuitry. or in analogue form. as in switchedBcapacitor circuits and buc+etB brigade delay lines. either in binary form. one farad in si5e and larger. /he straight plate indicates the positive terminal of the device. /he recent commercial availability of very large value capacitors. 'apacitors are connected in parallel with the power circuits of most electronic devices and larger systems @such as factoriesA to shunt away and conceal current fluctuations from the primary power source to provide a !clean! power supply for signal or control circuits. as often found in the enormously powerful car audio systems now seen. "6 . more negative. so it can be used li+e a temporary battery. if it is polari5ed @see electrolytic capacitorA. /he purpose is to match the inductive loading of machinery which contains motors. uses several capacitors in this way. as in computers. Such capacitors often come as three capacitors connected as a three phase load. Signal processing circuits also use capacitors to integrate a current signal. *n schematic diagrams. plate drawn as an arc. Signal processing /he energy stored in a capacitor can be used to represent information. *n this case they are called grading capacitors. /he capacitors act as a local reserve for the D' power source. /hey can also be used in charge pump circuits as the energy storage element in the generation of higher voltages than the input voltage.'apacitor symbols 'apacitors have very many uses in electronic and electrical systems. and bypass A' currents from the power supply. Audio equipment. >sually.

creating a large voltage across the open circuit of the switch or relay. ransducer applications Although capacitors usually maintian a fiDed physical structure and utili5ation varies the electrical voltage and current. but whose reactance is small at the signal frequency. this can cause undesirable startup characteristics. to dissipate energy more slowly and minimi5e K?*. the energy stored in the magnetic field of the inductance collapses quic+ly. or destroying a solidB state switch. *n an inverse fashion. deteriorate. radio receivers rely on variable capacitors to tune the station frequency. in smaller scale circuits. /his method is +nown as AC cou ling. the spar+ may not be enough to damage the switch but will still radiate undesirable radio frequency interference @K?*A. "" . !oise "ilters# motor starters# and snu$$ers 4hen an inductive circuit is opened. &ther nonBpolari5ed capacitors are drawn with two straight plates. or sometimes weld together.A #ere. *f the inductance is large enough. which a "ilter capacitor absorbs. A snubber capacitor across the newly opened circuit creates a path for this impulse to bypass the contact points. Such resistorBcapacitor combinations are available in a single pac+age. ?or eDample. Snubber capacitors are usually employed with a lowBvalue resistor in series. uned circuits 'apacitors and inductors are applied together in tuned circuits to select information in particular frequency bands. a large value of capacitance. @Sometimes transformers are used for the same effect. whose value need not be accurately controlled. they are often used to separate the A' and D' components of a signal. causing the contact points to oDidi5e. and a motor starting capacitor is used to store enough energy to give the current the initial push required to start the motor up. the energy will generate a spar+. and analog equali5ers use capacitors to select different audio bands.1onBpolari5ed electrolytic capacitors used for signal filtering are typically drawn with two curved plates. to initiate current quic+ly through an inductive circuit requires a greater voltage than required to maintain it in uses such as large motors. 'apacitors with an eDposed and porous dielectric can be used to measure humidity in air. Signal coupling 7ecause capacitors pass A' but bloc+ D' signals @when charged up to the applied dc voltageA. and have a slightly different schematic symbol. for instance. thereby preserving their life these were commonly found in contact brea+er ignition systems. the effects of varying the physical and-or electrical characteristics of the dielectric with a fiDed electrical supply can also be of use. 'apacitors for this purpose designed to be fitted through a metal panel are called feedBthrough capacitors. Spea+ers use passive analog crossovers. is employed. Similarly.

:ust as introducing a "$ . #owever.MS capacitors etched on a chip to measure the magnitude and direction of the acceleration vector. Ideal and nonideal capacitors *n practice.Dplosively pumped fluD compression generator. /he most obvious eDample is electrolytic capacitors.M% weapon. where the capacitor is polari5ed such that when the voltage is connected in reversed fashion. this ideal model of the capacitor often has to be modified to reflect real world capacitor construction and operation. and have led to constant improvements in capacitor design. and are also used as power supplies for electromagnetic guns such as railguns or coilguns. %eapons applications An obscure military application of the capacitor is in an .'apacitors with a fleDible plate can be used to measure strain or pressure. /hese devices are rumored to have been employed by the >S in the $66( invasion of *raq. See . as sensors triggering airbag deployment. /his creates a highBenergy electromagnetic shoc+ wave capable of destroying unprotected electronics for miles around. /he capacitor is charged up and the eDplosive is detonated. but the charge on the plates stays the same. A plastic eDplosive is used for the dielectric. where one plate is moved by air pressure. eg. this process also creates an inductance in series with the capacitance. 'apacitors are used as the transducer in condenser microphones. reducing the capacitance and increasing lea+age. Similar problems of dielectric lea+age are a constant complication of all capacitor design however. /hey are used to detect changes in acceleration. &n the other hand. though this is highly unli+ely. a problem reduced in modern components. the capacitor acts as a resistor. Accelerometers Some accelerometers use M. the requirements of large plate area for reasonably useful capacitor values as well as reasonable pac+aging resulted in the universal practice of rolling the plate-dielectric sandwich into a cylinder. which was then encapsulated. and in many other applications. /his also addresses the related problem of dielectric stability oiled or electrolyte soa+ed paper dries out over time. relative to the fiDed position fo the other plate. =arge highBvoltage lowBinductance capacitors are used as energy sources for the eDplodingBbridgewire detonators or slapper detonators in nuclear weapons and other specialty weapons. as tilt sensors or to detect free fall. Capacitive Position Sensors Are very precise. /he capacitance becomes smaller. as the material used for dielectrics has changed from oiled paper to mylar and from ceramic to /eflon.

*t is +nown that waste %'7s can lea+ into groundwater under landfills. *f the capacitor is physically large it is more li+ely to be dangerous and may require precautions in addition to those described above. #igh voltage capacitors should be stored with the terminals shorted to dissipate any stored charge. "( . 1ew electrical components are no longer produced with %'7s. 'are must be ta+en to ensure that any large or highBvoltage capacitor is properly discharged before servicing the containing equipment. but small enough to discharge the capacitor shortly after power is removed. *f consumed by drin+ing contaminated water. Dielectric materials can produce unwanted side effects. and can cause a type of signal modulation in electronic circuits called micro !onics. =arge oilBfilled old capacitors must be disposed of properly as some contain polychlorinated biphenyls @%'7sA. even in very tiny amounts. or by bypassing a large capacitor with a smaller. all large capacitors should be discharged before handling. they have the capacity to deliver large currents into short circuits this can be dangerous. the dielectric constant of barium titanate used in ceramic capacitors changes with temperature and pressure. Capacitor ha&ards and sa"ety 'apacitors may retain a charge long after power is removed from a circuit this charge can cause shoc+s @up to and including electrocutionA or damage to connected equipment. this inductance must be ta+en into account.coiled wire of similar characteristics in series with the flat capacitor would in sensitive circuits. either by using a capacitor designed to have lower inductance. %'7s are carcinogenic. as inductive problems in lowBcost capacitors were demonstrated to degrade highBfrequency fidelity. noninductive one. Since capacitors have such low equivalent series resistances @. whose resistance is large enough that the lea+age current will not affect the circuit.SKsA. Such capacitors are sensitive to vibration and fleDing. ?or boardBlevel capacitors. ?or eDample. ?or safety purposes. /his practice has become more common in audiophileBoriented products recently. this is done by placing a $leeder resistor across the terminals.