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Electronics

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Circuit Connections

Physics Tutorial

Series C ircuits | Parallel C ircuits | C ombination C ircuits

1-D Kinematics

Newton's Laws

Vectors - Motion and

Forces in Two

Dimensions

Momentum and Its

Conservation

Work, Energy, and

Power

Circular Motion and

Satellite Motion

Thermal Physics

Static Electricity

Current Electricity

Waves

Sound Waves and Music

Combination Circuits

Student Extras

Teacher's Guide

tw o different w ays to connect tw o or more electrical

devices together in a circuit. They can be connected by means of series connections or

by means of parallel connections. W hen all the devices in a circuit are connected by

series connections, then the circuit is referred to as a series circuit. W hen all the

devices in a circuit are connected by parallel

connections, then the circuit is referred to as a parallel

circuit. A third type of circuit involves the dual use of

series and parallel connections in a circuit; such circuits

are referred to as compound circuits or combination

circuits. The circuit depicted at the right is an example

of the use of both series and parallel connections

w ithin the same circuit. In this case, light bulbs A and B

are connected by parallel connections and light bulbs C

and D are connected by series connections. This is an example of a combination

circuit.

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understanding of the concepts that pertain to both series circuits and parallel circuits.

Since both types of connections are used in combination circuits, the concepts

associated w ith both types of circuits apply to the respective parts of the circuit. The

main concepts associated w ith series and parallel circuits are organized in the table

below .

Series Circuits

The current is the same in every

resistor; this current is equal to that in

the battery.

The sum of the voltage drops across

the individual resistors is equal to the

voltage rating of the battery.

The overall resistance of the collection

of resistors is equal to the sum of the

individual resistance values,

Parallel Circuits

The voltage drop is the same

across each parallel branch.

The sum of the current in each

individual branch is equal to the

current outside the branches.

The equivalent or overall

resistance of the collection of

resistors is given by the equation

1/Req = 1/R1 + 1/R2 + 1/R3 ...

Rtot = R1 + R2 + R3 + ...

Each of the above concepts has a mathematical expression. Combining the

mathematical expressions of the above concepts w ith the Ohm's law equation ( V = I

R) allow s one to conduct a complete analysis of a combination circuit.

The basic strategy for the analysis of combination circuits involves using the meaning

of equivalent resistance for parallel branches to transform the combination circuit into a

series circuit. Once transformed into a series circuit, the analysis can be conducted in

the usual manner. Previously in Lesson 4, the method for determining the equivalent

resistance of parallel are equal, then the total or equivalent resistance of those

branches is equal to the resistance of one branch divided by the number of branches.

1 / Req = 1 / R1 + 1 / R2 + 1 / R3 + ...

w here R1 , R2 , and R3 are the resistance values of the individual resistors that are

connected in parallel. If the tw o or more resistors found in the parallel branches do not

have equal resistance, then the above formula must be used. An example of this

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By applying one's understanding of the equivalent resistance of parallel branches to a

combination circuit, the combination circuit can be transformed into a series circuit.

Then an understanding of the equivalent resistance of a series circuit can be used to

determine the total resistance of the circuit. Consider the follow ing diagrams below .

Diagram A represents a combination circuit w ith resistors R2 and R3 placed in parallel

branches. Tw o 4- resistors in parallel is equivalent to a resistance of 2 . Thus, the

tw o branches can be replaced by a single resistor w ith a resistance of 2 . This is

show n in Diagram B. Now that all resistors are in series, the formula for the total

resistance of series resistors can be used to determine the total resistance of this

circuit: The formula for series resistance is

Rtot = R1 + R2 + R3 + ...

So in Diagram B, the total resistance of the circuit is 10 .

Once the total resistance of the circuit is determined, the analysis continues using

Ohm's law and voltage and resistance values to determine current values at various

locations. The entire method is illustrated below w ith tw o examples.

Example 1:

The first example is the easiest case - the resistors placed in parallel have the same

resistance. The goal of the analysis is to determine the current in and the voltage drop

across each resistor.

As discussed above, the first step is to simplify the circuit by replacing the tw o parallel

resistors w ith a single resistor that has an equivalent resistance. Tw o 8 resistors in

series is equivalent to a single 4 resistor. Thus, the tw o branch resistors (R2 and R3 )

can be replaced by a single resistor w ith a resistance of 4 . This 4 resistor is in

series w ith R1 and R4 . Thus, the total resistance is

Rtot = R1 + 4

+ R4 = 5

+4

+6

Rtot = 15

Now the Ohm's law equation ( V = I R) can be used to determine the total current in

the circuit. In doing so, the total resistance and the total voltage (or battery voltage)

w ill have to be used.

Itot = Vtot / Rtot = (60 V) / (15 )

Itot = 4 Amp

The 4 Amp current calculation represents the current at the battery location. Yet,

resistors R1 and R4 are in series and the current in series-connected resistors is

everyw here the same. Thus,

Itot = I1 = I4 = 4 Amp

For parallel branches, the sum of the current in each individual branch is equal to the

current outside the branches. Thus, I2 + I3 must equal 4 Amp. There are an infinite

number of possible values of I2 and I3 that satisfy this equation. Since the resistance

values are equal, the current values in these tw o resistors are also equal. Therefore,

the current in resistors 2 and 3 are both equal to 2 Amp.

I2 = I3 = 2 Amp

Now that the current at each individual resistor location is know n, the Ohm's law

equation ( V = I R) can be used to determine the voltage drop across each resistor.

These calculations are show n below .

V1 = I1 R1 = (4 Amp) (5 )

V1 = 20 V

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V2 = I2 R2 = (2 Amp) (8 )

V2 = 16 V

V3 = I3 R3 = (2 Amp) (8 )

V3 = 16 V

V4 = I4 R4 = (4 Amp) (6 )

V4 = 24 V

The analysis is now complete and the results are summarized in the diagram below .

Example 2:

The second example is the more difficult case - the resistors placed in parallel have a

different resistance value. The goal of the analysis is the same - to determine the

current in and the voltage drop across each resistor.

As discussed above, the first step is to simplify the circuit by replacing the tw o parallel

resistors w ith a single resistor w ith an equivalent resistance. The equivalent resistance

of a 4- and 12- resistor placed in parallel can be determined using the usual formula

for equivalent resistance of parallel branches:

1 / Req = 1 / R1 + 1 / R2 + 1 / R3 ...

1 / Req = 1 / (4

) + 1 / (12

1 / Req = 0.333 -1

Req = 1 / (0.333 -1 )

Req = 3.00

Based on this calculation, it can be said that the tw o branch resistors (R2 and R3 ) can

be replaced by a single resistor w ith a resistance of 3 . This 3 resistor is in series

w ith R1 and R4 . Thus, the total resistance is

Rtot = R1 + 3

+ R4 = 5

Rtot = 16

+3

+8

Now the Ohm's law equation ( V = I R) can be used to determine the total current in

the circuit. In doing so, the total resistance and the total voltage (or battery voltage)

w ill have to be used.

Itot = Vtot / Rtot = (24 V) / (16 )

Itot = 1.5 Amp

The 1.5 Amp current calculation represents the current at the battery location. Yet,

resistors R1 and R4 are in series and the current in series-connected resistors is

everyw here the same. Thus,

Itot = I1 = I4 = 1.5 Amp

For parallel branches, the sum of the current in each individual branch is equal to the

current outside the branches. Thus, I2 + I3 must equal 1.5 Amp. There are an infinite

possibilities of I2 and I3 values that satisfy this equation. In the previous example, the

tw o resistors in parallel had the identical resistance; thus the current w as distributed

equally among the tw o branches. In this example, the unequal current in the tw o

resistors complicates the analysis. The branch w ith the least resistance w ill have the

greatest current. Determining the amount of current w ill demand that w e use the

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Ohm's law equation. But to use it, the voltage drop across the branches must first be

know n. So the direction that the solution takes in this example w ill be slightly different

than that of the simpler case illustrated in the previous example.

To determine the voltage drop across the parallel branches, the voltage drop across

the tw o series-connected resistors (R1 and R4 ) must first be determined. The Ohm's

law equation ( V = I R) can be used to determine the voltage drop across each

resistor. These calculations are show n below .

V1 = I1 R1 = (1.5 Amp) (5 )

V1 = 7.5 V

V4 = I4 R4 = (1.5 Amp) (8 )

V4 = 12 V

This circuit is pow ered by a 24-volt source. Thus, the cumulative voltage drop of a

charge traversing a loop about the circuit is 24 volts. There w ill be a 19.5 V drop (7.5 V

+ 12 V) resulting from passage through the tw o series-connected resistors (R1 and

R4 ). The voltage drop across the branches must be 4.5 volts to make up the difference

betw een the 24 volt total and the 19.5-volt drop across R1 and R4 . Thus,

V2 = V3 = 4.5 V

Know ing the voltage drop across the parallel-connected resistors (R1 and R4 ) allow s

one to use the Ohm's law equation ( V = I R) to determine the current in the tw o

branches.

I2 = V2 / R2 = (4.5 V) / (4 )

I2 = 1.125 A

I3 = V3 / R3 = (4.5 V) / (12 )

I3 = 0.375 A

The analysis is now complete and the results are summarized in the diagram below .

Developing a Strategy

The tw o examples above illustrate an effective concept-centered strategy for analyzing

combination circuits. The approach demanded a firm grasp of the series and parallel

concepts discussed earlier. Such analyses are often conducted in order to solve a

physics problem for a specified unknow n. In such situations, the unknow n typically

varies from problem to problem. In one problem, the resistor values may be given and

the current in all the branches are the unknow n. In another problem, the current in the

battery and a few resistor values may be stated and the unknow n quantity becomes

the resistance of one of the resistors. Different problem situations w ill obviously

require slight alterations in the approaches. Nonetheless, every problem-solving

approach w ill utilize the same principles utilized in approaching the tw o example

problems above.

The follow ing suggestions for approaching combination circuit problems are offered to

the beginning student:

If a schematic diagram is not provided, take the time to construct one. Use

schematic symbols such as those show n in the example above.

W hen approaching a problem involving a combination circuit, take the time to

organize yourself, w riting dow n know n values and equating them w ith a symbol

such as Itot, I1 , R3 , V2 , etc. The organization scheme used in the tw o examples

above is an effective starting point.

Know and use the appropriate formulae for the equivalent resistance of seriesconnected and parallel-connected resistors. Use of the w rong formulae w ill

guarantee failure.

Transform a combination circuit into a strictly series circuit by replacing (in your

mind) the parallel section w ith a single resistor having a resistance value equal

to the equivalent resistance of the parallel section.

Use the Ohm's law equation ( V = I R) often and appropriately. Most answ ers

w ill be determined using this equation. W hen using it, it is important to

substitute the appropriate values into the equation. For instance, if calculating

I2 , it is important to substitute the V2 and the R2 values into the equation.

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For further practice analyzing combination circuits, consider analyzing the problems in

the Check Your Understanding section below .

1. A combination circuit is show n in the

diagram at the right. Use the diagram to

answ er the follow ing questions.

a. The current at location A is _____

(greater than, equal to, less than) the

current at location B.

b. The current at location B is _____

(greater than, equal to, less than) the

current at location E.

c. The current at location G is _____

(greater than, equal to, less than) the

current at location F.

d. The current at location E is _____ (greater than, equal to, less than) the current at

location G.

e. The current at location B is _____ (greater than, equal to, less than) the current at

location F.

f. The current at location A is _____ (greater than, equal to, less than) the current at

location L.

f. The current at location H is _____ (greater than, equal to, less than) the current at

location I.

See Answ ers

diagram at the right. Use the diagram to

answ er the follow ing questions.

(Assume that the voltage drops in the

w ires themselves in negligibly small.)

a. The electric potential difference

(voltage drop) betw een points B and C

is _____ (greater than, equal to, less

than) the electric potential difference

(voltage drop) betw een points J and K.

b. The electric potential difference

(voltage drop) betw een points B and K

is _____ (greater than, equal to, less

than) the electric potential difference (voltage drop) betw een points D and I.

c. The electric potential difference (voltage drop) betw een points E and F is _____

(greater than, equal to, less than) the electric potential difference (voltage drop)

betw een points G and H.

d. The electric potential difference (voltage drop) betw een points E and F is _____

(greater than, equal to, less than) the electric potential difference (voltage drop)

betw een points D and I.

e. The electric potential difference (voltage drop) betw een points J and K is _____

(greater than, equal to, less than) the electric potential difference (voltage drop)

betw een points D and I.

f. The electric potential difference betw een points L and A is _____ (greater than,

equal to, less than) the electric potential difference (voltage drop) betw een points B

and K.

See Answ ers

the identified resistor that w ould make the circuits equivalent.

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See Answ er

See Answ er

See Answ er

4. Analyze the follow ing circuit and determine the values of the total resistance, total

current, and the current at and voltage drops across each individual resistor.

a. ... pow er rating of resistor 4.

b. ... rate at w hich energy is consumed by resistor 3.

See Answ ers

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