How Do Electronics Work?

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Overview

  • The heart of electronics centers around directing electric current through a process so that it can be used to power an external source. This process is called a circuit. An external source can be a battery, light bulb, generator or any electric-powered device.

    Attracting, harnessing and directing electricity requires a certain set of materials with particular shapes, and a means to carry the current to the external source. This article will address the basic principles that make up an electronic device.

The Facts

  • An electronic circuit is the basic unit through which electricity is transmitted. The circuit is usually soldered onto a printed circuit board (PCB). The printed circuit board allows each component of the circuit to interact, and be connected..

    The circuit is a path made up of an energy source, an output device and a connection. The energy source can be a battery, or a generator, or light itself. The output device is something that makes use of the electric current like a lamp, or a light switch. The circuit's connection is what actually allows the current to flow. An example of a connection would be a wire or cable.

Features

  • The materials used to make an electronic circuit are:

    1. Conductors
    2. Insulators
    3. Semiconductors

    Conductors are usually metals like steel, copper or aluminum. Metals have a chemical composition that allow electricity to pass through easily. This composition has to do with their molecular makeup. Metal molecules such as these are made up of atoms that have a loose hold on their electrons. So when a current passes through a copper wire, the copper molecules help the current along because of this loose electron hold. Copper, aluminum and steel are said to have a "low resistance" to electrical transmissions.

    Insulators have the opposite effect. Glass, plastics, air, wood and rubber are good insulators because their molecules have a tight hold on their electrons. Electricity moves through these materials slowly, if at all, because of how these materials interact with the current. Insulating materials are used to keep a circuit from getting too hot, or shorting out.

    Semiconductors materials are made to conduct electricity at a moderate rate. Silicon and germanium are typically used to make semiconductor materials. They are, in their natural state, good conductors. What makes them semiconductors are the materials added to them.

    An example of this would be silicon. Silicon molecules are commonly used to transmit solar, or light power, into usable electrical energy. Technicians will add boron and phosphorous to the silicon material to create a self-generating flow of electrons through the circuit. The technical term for this is "doping." Adding boron and phosphorous creates the quality of current needed to transmit solar energy into electricity. Semiconductors can function as transistors, diodes or integrated circuits.

Types of

  • There are four types of electronic circuits, each made for a specific use.

    · Closed circuits -- This type is an unbroken path on which electrical currents flow. This means the power source, the wire and the output device are all connected together.
    · Short circuits -- This type of circuit happens when too much electrical current is generated as a result of an unanticipated interaction, like two bare wires that touch. Instead of the current flowing around the circuit in a linear fashion, the two touching wires release an excess amount of current. As a result, the output device (light bulb, light switch) shorts out and ceases to function.
    · Series circuits -- This type of circuit is made up of a series of output devices that all receive the same electrical current. An example of this would be a strand of lights. Every light in the strand would have to light in order for the circuit to work. One bad bulb will break the circuit connection.
    · Parallel circuits -- These are found in the more complex circuitry systems. They're made up of one overall power source that feeds multiple types of output devices. The connections, or wires, can be of all different sizes and capacities. The difference between parallel circuits and serial circuits is a non-functioning output device will only shut down that area of the circuit.

Expert Insight

  • As of April, R. Stanley Williams, a researcher at Hewlett Packard, has formulated proof of another basic element of electronic circuit theory. Currently called "memristors," Williams was able to record data that shows a memory capacity existent within the process of an electronic circuit. So far, said data can only be recorded in nanomolecular circuits. However, Williams sees this theory as applicable to the field of electronics overall.

    Electronic circuits would not only be capable of storing a record of past events (memory), but would analyze and retrieve this information as well. Williams proposes this process as similar to the workings of synapses in the human brain. Further development in this vein has the capacity to produce a whole new breed of "humanoid" type electronics capable of thinking, analysis and decision-making.

  • Photo Credit http://pro.corbis.com/, http://www.energyquest.ca.gov/, http://img.villagephotos.com/
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