Electrical Energy Storage of Capacitors: Physics Lab

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  • 0:04 What is a Capacitor?
  • 0:44 Physics Lab Steps
  • 2:07 Data Analysis
  • 3:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After completing this lab, you will be able to explain what capacitors are, how they work, and how they are used in a circuit. A short quiz will follow.

What is a Capacitor?

A capacitor is a component in an electric circuit that stores charge and is made up of two nearby (often parallel) plates. You charge a capacitor by connecting it to a battery, and you discharge it by removing the battery and connecting it to another circuit component. Capacitors can release charge faster than batteries and do so periodically: they can charge up, release their charge, and charge up over and over again. This can be really useful in some circuits, such as the flash on a camera. And, in fact, most electronic devices have capacitors of some kind in them.

Today, we're going to investigate capacitors and see how they work for ourselves.

Physics Lab Steps

For this physics lab, you will need:

  • A battery
  • A bulb
  • A capacitor
  • A resistor
  • Two switches
  • Seven wires
  • Two ammeters (devices that measure current flowing through them)

Step 1: Use the components to create a parallel circuit with two branches. On the first branch place the capacitor, a resistor, an ammeter, and a switch. (The resistor is just there to make sure the current isn't too high.) The second branch should connect around the capacitor and contain a bulb, the second ammeter, and the second switch. Keep the switches open (turned off) to start. Here is a diagram of what the circuit should look like:

Circuit Diagram
circuit diagram

Step 2: Close the switch on the first branch. Note down your observations, and watch the ammeter reading. You should notice the reading on the ammeter increase as current flows through the circuit. Once the ammeter reading has changed back to zero, proceed to the next step.

Step 3: Open the switch on the first branch, disconnecting the battery from the capacitor. THEN close the switch on the second branch.

Step 4: Note down your observations, and watch what happens to the ammeter reading. Repeat as needed until you're happy with your observations.

If you haven't already, now is the time to pause the video and complete the lab. Good luck!

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