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Electricity and magnetism Learning objectives

David Williams After reading this article, you will be able to:
C describe key concepts of static and current electricity
C explain the principles and application of common electronic
Abstract components
This article introduces essential concepts of electricity and magnetism C describe the relationships between electricity and magnetism
relevant to anaesthesia. Simple analogies are used to explain current
electricity and the action of electronic components in common use.
The concept of electric and magnetic elds is introduced with exam-
circuit diagrams, formulae and laws describes current as flowing
ples of their practical application.
in the opposite direction (i.e. from positive to negative).
Keywords Electricity; electronics; magnetism If the direction of current flow is constant, the current is said
to be direct current, DC. If the direction of current flow peri-
Royal College of Anaesthetists CPD Matrix: 1A03, 2A04, 3J00
odically reverses at a given frequency ( f; hertz, Hz), it is termed
alternating current (AC). The fluctuating voltage in AC circuits
may be described in terms of the peak voltage (Vpeak); however,
for most of the time the voltage is less than Vpeak, and is therefore
usually described (and indicated by test equipment) as the root
Static and current electricity mean square (VRMS), which is the DC voltage that would have an
equivalent heating effect. For a sinusoidal waveform:
Static electricity involves redistribution of electrons (charge
separation) between two or more insulators, such that one .p
insulator acquires an excess of electrons (negative charge), and VRMS Vpeak 2 0:707 Vpeak
the other develops a deficit of electrons (positive charge); but p
there is no net gain or loss of charge (Q; coulomb, C), or ongoing Vpeak VRMS 2 1:414 VRMS
movement of electrons (hence static). The elementary charge e
carried by a single electron is 1.602  1019 C. Like charges repel Hence European domestic mains voltage of 230 VRMS is 325
and unlike charges attract. Redistribution of electrons may be Vpeak. Similar equations apply to current.1
achieved by rubbing two insulators together to transfer electrons,
or by attraction or repulsion of electrons by an adjacent charged Components
object (induction). Charge may rapidly flow to earth via a
Electric current may be put to use by the addition of components,
conductor, causing ignition of flammable agents, or cardiac ar-
which may be arranged in a circuit in series or parallel configu-
rest due to microshock.
rations (Figure 1). Kirchhoffs Current Law states that the sum of
Current electricity involves a supply of energy in the form of
all current entering any point in a circuit equals the sum of all
an electromotive force (EMF)(E ; volt, V) which produces a po-
current leaving any point in a circuit (i.e. charge is conserved).
tential difference (PD)(V; volt, V) between two points on a
Kirchhoffs Voltage Law states that the sum of all the potential
conductor. If there is a continuous unbroken loop of conductor
drops in any closed loop of a circuit equals zero (i.e. energy is
(circuit), and a source of energy (EMF) to push the electrons
conserved). Passive components (e.g. resistors, capacitors, in-
around the circuit, electrons will flow through the conductor as
ductors) do not generate a current or PD.
electric current (I; ampere, A) from a point of high PD to low PD
Resistors (load) oppose current flow and dissipate the lost
in a manner analogous to the flow of water through a pipe (Table
energy as heat.2 Resistance (R; ohm, U) depends on properties of
1), or rotation of an unbroken column of marbles around a hula
the material (resistivity, r; U: conductivity, s 1/r), and in-
hoop. EMF can be provided by, for example, a single cell or
creases with increased length, decreased diameter, and increased
battery of interconnected cells that converts chemical potential
temperature. Most conductors obey Ohms Law: V IR. Fuses
energy into kinetic energy of electrons via chemical reactions
and safety cut-out devices break a circuit if current exceeds
which may be irreversible (primary cell) or reversible (sec-
normal flow. The Power Law: P VI (I2R) may be used to select
ondary or rechargeable cell).
the correct fuse rating (A) for a given application if supply
Individual electrons move very slowly through the conductor
voltage and power consumption (P; watt, W) are known. In
at a drift velocity of w1 m in 75 minutes, but interaction between
combination, resistors can be used to make a potential divider
adjacent electrons causes an almost instantaneous wave of
that allows connection to a smaller PD (e.g. for a power supply),
conduction at the speed of light (w3  108 m s1). Electrons
or a Wheatstone bridge that translates a small change in
move from a region of excess (negative charge) to deficit (posi-
tive charge); however, conventional flow notation used in all
Audio amplifier power output is often quoted as Watt RMS; but this is
misleading. Average Power (VRMS  IRMS for resistive loads) should be
David Williams FRCA, DipDHM is a Consultant Anaesthetist at the used instead.
Welsh Centre for Burns, Swansea, and Honorary Associate Professor N.B. The PD across a resistor drops, but the current passing through it
at Swansea University. UK. Conicts of interest: none declared. remains constant: current is not used up as it passes through a resistor.

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Comparison of water and electricity

Water Electricity
Property Units Property Units

Volume (quantity of water) L Charge (quantity of electrons) Coulomb (C)

Flow (movement of water) L s1 Current (movement of electrons) C s1 or ampere (A)
Pressure N m2 or pascal (Pa) EMF J C1 or volt (V)
Difference in pressure N m2 or pascal (Pa) Difference in potential (PD) (voltage) J C1 or volt (V)
Volume (L) flow (L s1)  time (s) Charge (C) current (A)  time (s)
Work (J) pressure (Pa)  volume (L) Work (J) potential (V)  charge (C)
Power (W) pressure (Pa)  flow (L s1) Power (W) potential (V)  current (A)

Table 1

Figure 1 Components in series and parallel. Effective values of resistors (a), inductors (b), and capacitors (c) in series
and parallel congurations.

resistance into a substantially proportional large change in PD to time when a capacitor charges or discharges. Applications
increase the sensitivity of sensors (e.g. pressure transducer) include storage and release of charge (e.g. defibrillator, camera
(Figure 2). Wheatstone bridges also help to compensate for flash), smoothing of AC (e.g. power supplies, suppression of
thermal drift, and may be modified to measure other quantities radio frequency interference), touch sensors, and timing devices.
(e.g. capacitance, inductance, impedance). Inductors consist of a coil of wire around an air or ferromag-
Variable resistors with linear or logarithmic scales (e.g. dim- netic core. Inductance (L; Wb/A: 1Wb/A 1 Henry, H) depends
mers and volume controls), thermistors3 (e.g. temperature on the permeability of free space (m0) and core (mr), number of
probes and thermal cut-outs) and light-dependant resistors (e.g. turns (n), cross sectional area (A) and length (l ) of core: L
motion detectors, emergency lighting) are all widely used in the m0mrn2A/l. Inductors store energy as a magnetic field (E 1/
hospital environment. 2LI2), and effectively add inertia e analogous to a turbine with
Capacitors typically consist of two conductors separated by an a flywheel attached e delaying onset and offset of maximal
insulator (dielectric) and store energy as electric charge. In current flow. The latter effect may be employed in a defibrillator
terms of our fluid analogy, capacitors resemble a rigid container to prolong the duration of the delivered shock.
divided into two compartments by a thick rubber plate. In The flow of AC through passive components is more complex
essence, DC cannot pass through a capacitor, but transient or AC than DC, as frequency ( f ) and phase angle (f) are involved as
can. Capacitance (C; farad, F) depends on the permittivity of free well as amplitude. The AC analogues of DC resistance are
space (0) and dielectric (r), plate area (A) and separation (d ): C impedance (Z; ohm, U) for resistors; and reactance (X; ohm, U)
0rA/d. Stored charge Q CV. If 1 J energy is needed to push for capacitors (XC 1/2pfC ) and inductors (XL 2pfL). Current
1 C of charge uphill against an electrical potential of 1 V, then 1 flow through resistors is not affected by frequency, but current
joule 1 coulomb-volt: E QV. The mean voltage during passes more easily through capacitors at high frequencies, and
complete charge and discharge is V/2, therefore stored energy (or through inductors at low frequencies. A combination of resistors,
work of charging) E 1/2CV2 1/2QV. There is an exponential capacitors and inductors will therefore have minimum or
relationship between current, voltage, and electrical charge with maximum impedance at a resonant frequency ( f0), which occurs
when XC and XL are equal and opposite, and this can be used in
the design of high-pass, low-pass, band pass, or notch filters to
Depending on the type of thermistor, resistance may increase (positive selectively pass or block specific frequency bands as part of
temperature coefficient, PTC) or decrease (negative temperature coeffi- signal processing (e.g. in monitoring equipment and radio
cient, NTC) with increasing temperature in a non-linear fashion. receivers).

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Figure 2 Potential divider and Wheatstone bridge. (a) Potential divider: Two resistors (R1, R2) in series have total resistance R1 R2, and by
Kirchhoffs Current Law, the same current (I ) passes through each. By Ohms Law: V1 I(R1 R2) and V2 IR2; therefore V2 V1R2/R1 R2 (i.e.
the PD across each resistor varies in proportion to the ratio of the two resistances). In practice, if load RL is placed across R2, then V2 V1  Rp/R1
Rp, where: Rp (R2  RL)/(R2 RL). (b) Wheatstone bridge: Two potential dividers are connected to a common supply voltage (V), and linked by
a galvanometer (M ) at the bridge between them. R1 and R2 are xed and known resistances (ratio arms), R3 is a calibrated variable resistor, and
R4 is the unknown resistance. R3 is adjusted until current through the galvanometer is zero (null deection), at which point the bridge is
balanced: potential at A potential at B (i.e. PD 0 V; I1 I2; I1R1 I2R3 and I1R2 I2R4; therefore R1/R2 R3/R4; and R4 R2/R1  R3).

Semiconductors topographic gradient) at that point. In terms of our fluid analogy,

a vector field is the fluid, field lines are stream lines, and field
Diodes readily conduct current from anode (a) to cathode (k); but
strength is the velocity (i.e. speed and direction) of the fluid at a
resist current flow in the opposite direction, and effectively
given point. Electric and magnetic fields are intimately related,
function as one-way valves. They may be used as (half-wave,
and are described by the four Maxwells equations: a changing
full-wave or bridge) rectifiers, to convert AC to DC. Light-emitting
magnetic field creates an electric field (i.e. current flow) and a
diodes (LED) and liquid crystal diodes (LCD) are used for al-
changing electric field creates a magnetic field. We can define
phanumeric displays; and infrared and photodiodes are used in
magnetic flux density or magnetic field strength at a point (B;
remote controls and pulse oximeter probes.
derived unit Wb m2 or tesla, T; cgs unit gauss, G: 1 G 104
Transistors (transfer resistors) come in two types: NPN and
T)4; and magnetic flux (FM; V s, derived unit weber, Wb; cgs unit
PNP, and are analogous to hydraulically activated servo valves:
Maxwell Mx: 1 Mx 108 Wb) acting at an angle q through an
a small current flow between base (b) and emitter (e) controls a
area A: FM BAcos q.
larger current between collector (c) and emitter. Applications
therefore include switching (e.g. solid-state relays) and signal
Permanent and electromagnets
amplification. The related field effect transistors (FET) use a
small change in voltage between gate and drain to control a Magnets have at least one north (N) and one south (S) pole, with
larger voltage between source and drain. a field direction (by convention, the direction of force on a N pole
Transistors and diodes may be combined to form binary logic placed in the field) from N to S. Like poles repel: unlike poles
gates (e. g. AND, OR, XOR, NOT) in which the output is deter- attract. Strong magnetic fields may adversely effect medical
mined by the combination of inputs, summarized in a truth table; equipment (e.g. pacemakers and cathode ray tube [CRT] dis-
and flip flops, which form the basis of binary counters. These plays). Materials containing unpaired electrons are attracted by
are the building blocks of all microprocessors and computers. magnets: ferromagnetic materials (e.g. Fe, Ni, Co and their alloys:
Vast numbers of semiconductors and other components can be AleNieCo and ferrite: ZnO2eFe2O3) are strongly attracted,
etched onto a small piece of silicon (silicon chip) to form in- whereas paramagnetic materials (e.g. transition elements, Al,
tegrated circuits (IC). Mg, Mo, O2) are weakly attracted. Diamagnetic materials (e.g. Bi,
Cu, Au, Ag, Pb and their alloys; as well as carbon, water, most
Magnetism gases, and organic compounds) contain no unpaired electrons,
and are weakly repelled by magnets.
Electric and magnetic fields are produced by motion of electrons A current carrying conductor produces a magnetic field with
and subatomic particles, and are examples of vector fields. Each strength proportional to current, and direction predicted by
position in space is represented by a vector that defines the Maxwells Corkscrew Rule. The magnitude of the magnetic field is
magnitude and direction of the force which would be exerted on increased by use of a coiled conductor (solenoid), and further
a tiny test particle (e.g. charge or magnet) placed at that point. increased if the coil is wound on a ferromagnetic core
Adjacent vectors can be connected to form field lines (analogous
to the representation of the continuous function of elevation by
contour lines on a topographic map). The density of the field 4
B w0.5  104 T at the earths surface; w1 T near rare earth magnets;
lines at a point is proportional to the strength of the field (or and w1.5 T inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner.

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(electromagnet). Pure (soft) iron cores produce temporary magnitude of the effect depends on the ratio of the number of
electromagnets that lose magnetism when the current is switched windings (n): n1/n2 V1/V2 I2/I1. Applications include power
off: steel (i.e. FeeC alloy) cores produce permanent electro- supplies and isolation transformers.
magnets, which retain magnetism when the current is switched Motion (mechanical kinetic energy) can be converted into
off. current (electrical energy) by relative motion between a
Ferromagnetic objects placed within a solenoid may be conductor and a magnetic field. The direction of current flow is
magnetized by DC to make permanent magnets, and demag- predicted by Flemings Right Hand Dynamo Rule. Applications
netized (degaussed) by AC. Ferromagnetic objects may also be include generators, dynamos, and microphones. Conversely,
weakly magnetized by repeatedly stroking them with another current may be converted into motion by passing a changing
magnet, or hammering them when aligned with the earths current through a conductor in a fixed magnetic field. The di-
magnetic field at the appropriate angle of dip; and demagne- rection of motion is predicted by Flemings Left Hand Motor Rule.
tized by heating, or hammering them when aligned perpendic- Applications include: electric (rotary and linear) motors, relays,
ular to the earths magnetic field. Alloys of rare earth elements loud speakers and moving coil meters.
(e.g. samariumecobalt: SmCo5, neodymiumeironeboron: When current flows through a (typically wide, flat) conductor
Nd2Fe14B) can be magnetized to make extremely strong compact in a magnetic field, the transverse force generated on the elec-
permanent magnets. trons causes them to accumulate on one side, producing a
measurable PD across the width of the conductor (the Hall ef-
Electromagnetic induction fect). Common applications include magnetometers, robust non-
contact switches, and sensors for e. g. flow, pressure, and
Electromagnetic induction (inductance) is generation of a po-
tential difference across a conductor due to a changing magnetic
movement. A
field. The changing magnetic field may be caused by AC, or by
relative motion between the conductor and the magnet. The FURTHER READING
magnitude of the induced EMF is proportional to the frequency of Scherz P. Practical electronics for inventors. 2nd edn. 2007. New York:
the AC, or rate at which the lines of the magnetic field are cut by McGraw Hill, 2007.
the conductor (Faradays Law of Electromagnetic Induction); and Serway R, Jewett J. Physics for scientists and engineers. 6th edn. CA:
the direction of the induced EMF is such as to oppose the change Thomson, Brooks, Cole, 2004.
in magnetic flux which caused it (Lenzs Law). Tooley M. Electronic circuits: fundamentals and applications. 2nd edn.
A transformer consists of two (primary and secondary) or 2004. Oxford: Elsevier/Newnes, 2004.
more coils on a common ferromagnetic core. Although electri-
cally isolated, in an AC circuit the coils interact via electromag-
netic induction, and can step up or step down voltage at the Williams D, Mandal NG, Sharma A. Electricity and magnetism. Anaesth
expense of current in an analogous manner to the way in which Intensive Care Med 2011; 12: 423e5.
different gear ratios on a bicycle exchange torque for speed. The

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