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Matthew Fearrington

RC Circuits and Time Constants


The objectives of this lab were to compare resistor and capacitor voltages during the DC
charging cycle of a capacitor and to deduce the time constant of the circuit.


The circuit shown in Figure 1 was constructed. The resistance values for each resistor and
inductor (Rw) were measured with a multimeter for accuracy. The capacitance for the capacitor was
also measured. A function generator was attached to the circuit set with a square wave, a peak to peak
voltage of 10V and a frequency of 12kHz. A oscilloscope was then attached at point A, to confirm the
correct construction of the circuit.

The oscilloscope was then attached to point B and the voltage across the capacitor was
measured at differing time intervals. The polarity of the circuit was then reversed, and the voltage
across the resistor was measured at the same time intervals.

Figure 1, Schematic

These are the recorded values for the voltage across the 10kΩ resistor, as well as the nominal
and measured values for all the components used in the circuit.

Table 1 Nominal and Measured Values

Resistor (kΩ) Capacitor (nF) Source Voltagepp (V)

Nominal 5 1 9.92
Measured 5.12 1.0379 9.92

Table 2 Recorded Voltages

Time (µs) Capacitor (V) Resistor (V)

0 0 9.92
2.5 3.84 6.16
5 5.92 4.24
7.5 7.36 2.64
10 8.4 1.84
15 9.28 .88
20 9.68 .56
25 9.92 .4
30 9.92 .32
40 9.92 .24

Table 3 Time Constants

Calculated 5.13µs
From Vcapacitor 5.5µs
From Vresistor 7µs
Table 4 Calculated Voltages

Time (µs) Capacitor (V) Resistor (V)

0 0 9.92
2.5 3.82 6.1
5 6.17 3.75
7.5 7.62 2.3
10 8.5 1.42
15 9.38 .56
20 9.71 .21
25 9.84 .08
30 9.89 .03
40 9.91 .1

The time constant is the product of the resistance and the capacitance. The time constant
represents the amount of time it takes for a capacitor in a RC circuit to reach 63% of it's maximum
voltage. This time constant can then be used to determine the voltages of the resistor and the capacitor
in the circuit, as shown done in the calculations below.
The time constant can be found in a multitude of ways. Because the time constant is the amount
of time it takes the capacitor to reach 63% of it's maximum voltage, it is also the amount of time it
takes for the resistor to reach 37% of it's maximum voltage. The time constant can be found by plotting
the voltages of the two components. Using the voltage of the capacitor produced an accurate number
for the time constant, however when the voltage of the resistor was used to compute the time constant,
a value was obtained that was far from the calculated value. This can be attributed to inaccurate
measurements and human error.

Appendix 1: Voltage of 5kOhm resistor

Appendix 2: Voltage of Capacitor

Appendix 3: Calculations

Using the formula above the voltage for the capacitor can be found

The difference between the source voltage and the voltage of the capacitor indicates the voltage of the