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Physics Lab

Lab: Power in Series and Parallel Circuits

Unit: Electrodynamics
________________________________________
Name

Purpose
To create a series and parallel circuit and properly measure voltages
and currents
To calculate and observe differences in power output among light bulbs
of varying resistance

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On Time ____ / 1

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Electrical power is the rate at which electrical energy is consumed, i.e. is
transformed into some other form of energy – light bulbs will be brighter, electric
motors will do more work quicker, and resistors will get hotter faster, all in
proportion to the electrical power consumed.

Procedure: http://phet.colorado.edu Simulation: Circuit Construction


Kit (DC only)

1. Connect a circuit containing a battery, ammeter, voltmeter, switch, and three light
bulbs with resistances (5.0 Ω, 10.0 Ω and 25.0 Ω) connected in series.

2. Adjust the battery to provide a total potential difference of 20.0 V and measure the
total current as well as the total voltage.

3. Keep the switch closed and observe which light bulb is the brightest (you may
need to drag light bulbs over top of one another to compare the light rays
coming out of them).

4. Record the total current, total voltage and brightest bulb in the table below.

5. Repeat the steps above with the three light bulbs connected in parallel and
the battery set to 20.0 V.

6. Calculate the remaining sections of the table. Use the values that you
measured and the known resistances to calculate the rest of the values.

Series Total
potential *
difference
current (V)
(A)
resistance (Ω) 5.0 10.0 25.0
electrical *
power (W)
Light bulb in series that is the brightest

Parallel Total
potential
difference
current (V)
(A) *
resistance (Ω) 5.0 10.0 25.0
electrical *
power (W)
Light bulb in parallel that is the brightest

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Questions and Analysis:
(All numerical solutions must show Uncle Al’s 3 steps. All other answers must be in
complete sentences.)

1. Show the calculations for those four values in the table that are marked with an “ *
”.

2. a. Derive an expression for power that does not include V. (Hint: Combine V = IR
and P = IV).

b. Derive an expression for power that does not include I. (Hint: Combine V = IR
and P = IV).

3. a. Explain the theory behind your observations of the “brightest light bulb” for each
circuit. Your explanation will include a discussion of “what’s constant” in series vs.
parallel circuits AND relevant proportions involving the “power formulas” (P=IV and
those derived above). The relevant formula will have power and resistance in it as
well as the constant variable.

b. Sketch a graph of power as a c. Sketch a graph of power as a


function of resistance function of resistance for resistors
for resistors connected in series. connected in parallel.

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4. The electric outlets in your house provide a standard potential difference of 120
volts across anything that you plug into them. A typical light bulb has a power of 60
watts.
a. How much current flows through b. What is the resistance of the
the light bulb when it is on? lightbulb?

c. Does it have a higher or lower voltage of 240 volts, how much


resistance than a light bulb rated at current will flow through it? Clue: the
100 watts? Explain your answer! resistance of the filament stays the
d. If you take the 60 watt bulb to same the power does not!
Germany, where outlets have a

e. How many times more watts would f. What do you think would happen
the light bulb consume in Germany when you plugged in this bulb in
than its power output here in the US? Germany?

5. In the early 20th Century electric lighting was new and exciting. In a 1903 letter,
George Bernard Shaw makes an analogy between the filament of a light bulb and
his work as an author…
If you study the electric light…you will find that your house contains a great quantity
of highly susceptible copper wire which gorges itself with electricity and gives you no
light whatsoever. But here and there occurs a scrap of intensely insusceptible,
intensely resistant material; and that stubborn scrap grapples with the current and
will not let it through until it has made itself useful to you as those two vital qualities
of literature, light and heat. Now if I am to be no mere copper wire amateur but a
luminous author, I must also be a most intensely refractory person, liable to go out
and to go wrong at inconvenient moments, and with incendiary possibilities. These
are the faults of my qualities; and I assure you that I sometimes dislike myself so
much that when some irritable reviewer chances at that moment to pitch into me
with zest, I feel unspeakably relieved and obliged. But I never dream of reforming,
knowing that I must take myself as I am and get what work I can out of myself.

Briefly discuss the Physics of Shaw’s metaphor. What is he talking about? What
physics words does he use?

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6. A variable resistor is used as a dimmer switch with a light bulb.

a. Sketch a series circuit you can try this out in the


containing a battery, variable simulation)
resistor (a resistor that you can b. Can you dim the bulb? If so,
change), and light bulb. (Use the by increasing or decreasing the
electrical symbols from your resistance of the variable resistor?
Regents Reference tables.) (Hint: Justify your answer.

c. Sketch a parallel circuit you can try this out in the


containing a battery, variable simulation)
resistor (a resistor that you can d. Can you dim the bulb? If so,
change), and light bulb. (Use the by increasing or decreasing the
electrical symbols from your resistance of the variable resistor?
Regents Reference tables.) (Hint: Justify your answer.

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7. A 120 V household circuit contains a 1600 W coffeemaker and an 800 W microwave.
While Frank is making coffee and nuking his breakfast, he plugs in his 800 W
hairdryer (in the kitchen – gross!) and the circuit breaker goes off.

The circuit breakers are switches that flip when you use too much current. Many
people’s circuit breakers are in their garage. In times gone by, circuit breakers used
to be fuses. Instead of a switch flipping off a fuse would actually burn out. That fuse
would then need to be replaced instead of simply flipping the switch back on.

a. Sketch the circuit using resistor symbols for the 3 appliances and the
symbol for a fuse for the circuit breaker. Remember that your electric
outlet supplies 120 V across each appliance! The fuse should be
positioned in the flow of the total current. fuse =

b. Explain (with calculations and words) why the circuit breaker blew. In your
explanation you must provide a current value that you know does not flip the
circuit breaker as well as the current value that made the circuit breaker go off.

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