Thursday, July 14, 2011


A device used to store charge in an electrical circuit. A capacitor functions much like a battery, but charges and discharges much more efficiently (batteries, though, can store much more charge).

A basic capacitor is made up of two conductors separated by an insulator, or dielectric. The dielectric can be made of paper, plastic, mica, ceramic, glass, a vacuum or nearly any other nonconductive material. Some capacitors are called electrolytics, meaning that their dielectric is made up of a thin layer of oxide formed on a aluminum or tantalum foil conductor.

Capacitor electron storing ability (called capacitance) is measured in Farads. One Farad is actually a huge amount of charge (6,280,000,000,000,000,000 electrons to be exact), so we usually rate capacitors in microfarads (uF = 0.000,001F) and picofarads (pF = 0.000,000,000,001F ). Capacitors are also graded by their breakdown (i.e., smoke) voltage. Capacitors rated for lower voltages are generally smaller in size and weight; you don't want to use too low a voltage rating, though, unless you enjoy replacing burnt-out capacitors in your creation.

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