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21: Circuits, Bioelectricity, and DC Instruments

This collection of modules takes the topic of electric circuits a step beyond simple circuits. When the circuit is purely resistive, everything in this module applies to both DC and AC. Matters become more complex when capacitance is involved. We do consider what happens when capacitors are connected to DC voltage sources, but the interaction of capacitors and other nonresistive devices with AC is left for a later chapter. Finally, a number of important DC instruments, such as meters that measure voltage and current, are covered in this chapter.

  • 21.0: Prelude to Circuits and DC Instruments
    Electric circuits are commonplace. Some are simple, such as those in flashlights. Others, such as those used in supercomputers, are extremely complex.
  • 21.1: Resistors in Series and Parallel
    Most circuits have more than one component, called a resistor that limits the flow of charge in the circuit. A measure of this limit on charge flow is called resistance. The simplest combinations of resistors are the series and parallel connections . The total resistance of a combination of resistors depends on both their individual values and how they are connected.
  • 21.2: Electromotive Force - Terminal Voltage
    If you connect an excessive number of 12-V lights in parallel to a car battery, they will be dim even when the battery is fresh and even if the wires to the lights have very low resistance. This implies that the battery’s output voltage is reduced by the overload. The reason for the decrease in output voltage for depleted or overloaded batteries is that all voltage sources have two fundamental parts—a source of electrical energy and an internal resistance. This section examines both.
  • 21.3: Kirchhoff’s Rules
    Many complex circuits cannot be analyzed with the series-parallel techniques developed previously. There are, however, two circuit analysis rules that can be used to analyze any circuit, simple or complex. These rules are special cases of the laws of conservation of charge and conservation of energy. The rules are known as Kirchhoff’s rules, after their inventor Gustav Kirchhoff (1824–1887).
  • 21.4: DC Voltmeters and Ammeters
    Voltmeters measure voltage, whereas ammeters measure current.
  • 21.5: Null Measurements
    Standard measurements of voltage and current alter the circuit being measured, introducing uncertainties in the measurements. Voltmeters draw some extra current, whereas ammeters reduce current flow. Null measurements balance voltages so that there is no current flowing through the measuring device and, therefore, no alteration of the circuit being measured.
  • 21.6: DC Circuits Containing Resistors and Capacitors
    When you use a flash camera, it takes a few seconds to charge the capacitor that powers the flash. The light flash discharges the capacitor in a tiny fraction of a second. Why does charging take longer than discharging? This question and a number of other phenomena that involve charging and discharging capacitors are discussed in this module.
  • 21.E: Circuits and DC Instruments (Exercise)

Thumbnail: Wheatstone bridge circuit diagram that is used to measure an unknown electrical resistance by balancing two legs of a bridge circuit, one leg of which includes the unknown component. The primary benefit of a wheatstone bridge is its ability to provide extremely accurate measurements. Image used with permission (CC-SA-BY- 3.0; Rhdv);


  • Paul Peter Urone (Professor Emeritus at California State University, Sacramento) and Roger Hinrichs (State University of New York, College at Oswego) with Contributing Authors: Kim Dirks (University of Auckland) and Manjula Sharma (University of Sydney). This work is licensed by OpenStax University Physics under a Creative Commons Attribution License (by 4.0).