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The Physics C lassroom Physics Tutorial C urrent Electricity

Current Electricity - Lesson 4

Circuit Connections
Physics Tutorial

C ircuit Symbols and C ircuit Diagrams | Two Types of C onnections


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

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Combination Circuits

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Previously in Lesson 4, it w as mentioned that there are


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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W hen analyzing combination circuits, it is critically important to have a solid


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.

Analysis of Combination Circuits


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.

This method is consistent w ith the formula

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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method w as presented in a previous section of Lesson 4.


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 .

Check Your Understanding


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

2. Consider the combination circuit in the


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

3. Use the concept of equivalent resistance to determine the unknow n resistance of


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.

See Answ ers

5. Referring to the diagram in question #4, determine the ...


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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