By Stephen Bucaro
Work is accomplished in an electric circuit as the result of electron current flow. Current flow is
produced by a power source, such as a battery, in the circuit. A power source has a potential
difference across it, a voltage, across its terminals. Electrons flow from the more negative
terminal to the less negative terminal in an attempt to reduce the potential difference.
A proper circuit has some resistance in it. If the circuit does not make a complete path, it is
an open circuit, so no current can flow. If the circuit does not have some resistance in
it (zero resistance), it is a Short circuit and current flow will be infinite (or whatever
maximum the battery is able to provide).
In the above diagram, the symbol on the left is the power source. Let's say the power source
has a voltage, or potential difference across it of 10 Volts. Then because the resistor R is
connected directly across the power source, it also has 10 volts across it.
Let's say the resistor has a resistance of 100 ohms. The current through the circuit can be
calculated by Ohm's law: I = E/R (current in amps equals voltage in volts divided by resistance
in ohms). Then the current would be 10/100, or 0.1 amps (100 milliamperes).
In a series circuit electronic devices or loads are connected in a chain so that current
has to pass through every load. Since the loads are in series, the current is the same in all
parts of the circuit. That current can be calculated by adding the resistances of all the
loads and then using Ohm's law.
Again. let's say the power source is 10 volts. Let's give the resistors values of R1 = 120 ohms,
R2 = 100 ohms, R3 = 180 ohms. So the total series resistance would be 400 ohms. Using Ohm's law: I = E/R,
I = 10/400. The current would be .025 amps (25 milliamperes).
However, because the loads each have different resistances, the voltage drop across each load
is different. The voltage accross each load can be calculated by Ohm's law E = I x R.
The voltage across R1 would be .025 x 120 = 3 volts.
The voltage across R2 would be .025 x 100 = 2.5 volts.
The voltage across R3 would be .025 x 180 = 4.5 volts.
Note that because all three resistors in series are connected accross the 10 volt power
source, the sum of the voltage drops accross all the resistors must add up to 10 volts.
In a parallel circuit devices or loads are each connected separately accross the power source.
Since the loads are in parallel, the voltage across each load is tha same. However, because
because the loads each have different resistance, the current flow through each parallel path,
or branch, is different. The current through each path can be calculated using Ohm's law: I = E/R.
Again, let's say the power source is 10 volts. Let's give the resistors values of R1 = 200 ohms, R2 = 100 ohms, R3 = 250 ohms.
The current through R1 would be 10/200 = .05 amps.
The current through R2 would be 10/100 = .10 amps.
The current through R3 would be 10/250 = .04 amps.
Note that the total current through the circuit is the sum of all the currents through
the parallel paths; It = .05 + .10 + .04 = .19 amps.