Decoupling capacitors When designing a circuit, many novice engineers and hobbyists take a stable and well regulated power supply for granted, only to find out that their circuits don’t perform as expected during testing, or after the assembly is already complete. Analog circuits such as audio amplifiers or radios may produce a strange hum or a crackling noise audible in the background, and digital circuits such as microcontrollers may become unstable and unpredictable. The reason for this underperformance often lies in the fact that the input voltage is rarely stable in practice. Instead, when viewed with an oscilloscope, a DC power supply often shows many glitches, voltage spikes and AC voltage components. What is a decoupling capacitor? A decoupling capacitor acts as a local electrical energy reservoir. Capacitors, like batteries, need time to charge and discharge. When used as decoupling capacitors, they oppose quick changes of voltage. If the input voltage suddenly drops, the capacitor provides the energy to keep the voltage stable. Similarly, if there is a voltage spike, the capacitor absorbs the excess energy. Decoupling capacitors are used to filter out voltage spikes and pass through only the DC component of the signal. The idea is to use a capacitor in such a way that it shunts, or absorbs the noise making the DC signal as smooth as possible. Because of this, decoupling capacitors are also called bypass capacitors, since they bypass the power source when needed. They can be regarded as small uninterruptible power supplies dedicated to a single circuit board, or even a single component on a board. It is not uncommon to have a single capacitor for each integrated circuit used. As a matter of fact, in digital systems, almost all capacitors on the board may be used for decoupling. Power supply decoupling Decoupling capacitors [… read more]

## Filter capacitor

Filter capacitors Capacitors are reactive elements, which make them suitable for use in analog electronic filters. The reason for this is that the impedance of a capacitor is a function of frequency, as explained in the article about impedance and reactance. This means that the effect of a capacitor on a signal is frequency-dependent, a property that is extensively used in filter design. Analog electronic filters are used to perform a predefined signal processing function. An example of such a function is a low-pass filter (LPF), which passes through low frequencies, but blocks high frequencies. Another example is the high-pass filter (HPF), which passes through high frequencies but blocks low frequencies. These are some basic filter types which can be combined to create other more complicated filters, such as band-pass or notch filters. Electronic filters can be realized in many different ways. They can be made using analog components only, such as capacitors, inductors, resistors, transistors, and operational amplifiers. They can also be realized using digital technology – digital signal processing circuits that consist of a specialized computer or microcontroller and software appropriate for the application. Analog filters are further divided into passive and active filters. Active filters use amplifying circuits and components such as transistors and opamps, while passive filters use resistors, inductors and capacitors exclusively. The advantage of passive filters is that no power source is needed apart from the processed signal itself, while the advantage of active filters is reduced size and cost. Line filters A special subset of electronic filters are line filters. They are used to suppress electrical noise coming from the power supply line. There are many sources of power line noise which make the power supply voltage fluctuate at various frequencies. Some noise sources, such as air conditioners, refrigerators, heaters and other large [… read more]

## Q factor

Q Factor definition The Q factor of a capacitor, also known as the quality factor, or simply Q, represents the efficiency of a given capacitor in terms of energy losses. It is defined as: where QC is the quality factor, XC is the reactance of the capacitor, C the capacitance of the capacitor, RC is the equivalent series resistance (ESR) of the capacitor, and ω0 is the frequency in radians at which the measurement is taken. In an AC system, the Q factor represents the ratio of energy stored in the capacitor to the energy dissipated as thermal losses in the equivalent series resistance. For example, a capacitor that is capable of storing 2000 joules of energy while wasting only 1 joule has a Q factor of 2000. Since Q is the measure of efficiency, an ideal capacitor would have an infinite value of Q meaning that no energy is lost at all in the process of storing energy. This is derived from the fact that the ESR of an ideal capacitor equals zero. The Q factor is not a constant value. It changes significantly with frequency for two reasons. The first reason is the obvious ω0 term in the above equation. The second reason is that ESR is not a constant value with regard to frequency. The ESR varies with frequency due to the skin effect, as well as other effects related to the dielectric characteristics. A related term, called the dissipation factor(DF), is sometimes defined in capacitor datasheets instead of the Q-factor. In AC circuits the DF is simply the reciprocal value of Q. Why is the Q factor important? Most applications do not have to take the Q factor into serious consideration, and standard capacitors may be used in those applications. However, the Q factor is one [… read more]

## Dielectric Materials

Dielectric materials Dielectric materials are essentially insulators, which means that no current will flow through the material when a voltage is applied. However, certain changes do happen at the atomic scale. When a voltage is applied across a dielectric object, it becomes polarized. Since atoms are made of a positively charged nucleus and negatively charged electrons, polarization is an effect which slightly shifts electrons towards the positive voltage. They do not travel far enough to create a current flow through the material – the shift is microscopic, but has a very important effect, especially when dealing with capacitors. Once the voltage source is removed from the material, it either returns to its original non-polarized state, or stays polarized if the molecular bonds in the material are weak. The difference between the terms dielectric and insulator is not very well defined. All dielectric materials are insulators, but a good dielectric is one which is easily polarized. The amount of polarization which occurs when a certain voltage is applied to an object influences the amount of electrical energy that is stored in the electric field. This is described by the dielectric constant of the material. The dielectric constant is not the only property of dielectric materials. Other properties such as dielectric strength and dielectric loss are equally important in the choice of materials for a capacitor in a given application. Dielectric constant The dielectric constant of a material, also called the permittivity of a material, represents the ability of a material to concentrate electrostatic lines of flux. In more practical terms, it represents the ability of a material to store electrical energy in the presence of an electric field. All materials, including vacuum, store energy when placed in an electric field. The permittivity of vacuum is defined as the physical constant ε0, [… read more]

## Impedance and Reactance

Impedance and reactance An element in a DC circuit can be described using only its resistance. The resistance of a capacitor in a DC circuit is regarded as an open connection (infinite resistance), while the resistance of an inductor in a DC circuit is regarded as a short connection (zero resistance). In other words, using capacitors or inductors in an ideal DC circuit would be a waste of components. Yet, they are still used in real circuits and the reason is that they never operate with ideally constant voltages and currents. As opposed to constant voltage circuits, in AC circuits the impedance of an element is a measure of how much the element opposes current flow when an AC voltage is applied across it. It is basically a voltage to current ratio, expressed in the frequency domain. Impedance is a complex number, which consists of a real and an imaginary part: where Z is the complex impedance. The real part R represents resistance, while the imaginary part X represents reactance. Resistance is always positive, while reactance can be either positive or negative. Resistance in a circuit dissipates power as heat, while reactance stores energy in the form of an electric or magnetic field. Impedance of a resistor Resistors in AC circuits behave the same way they do in DC circuits. Basically, the impedance of a resistor consists only of the real part, which is equal to the resistance of the resistor. Therefore, the impedance of a resistor can be expressed as: where Z is the impedance, and R is the resistance of the resistor. It is obvious that a resistor has no reactance, and can therefore store no energy. Also, when a voltage is applied across the resistor, the current flowing through the resistor will be in phase with the voltage, [… read more]

## Parasitic Inductance

What is inductance? Electric inductance is a property of all conductors. A change in the current flowing through the conductor creates (induces) a voltage in that conductor, as well as all nearby conductors. The induced voltage opposes the change in the current that induced the voltage. Inductance is a consequence of two laws of physics. Firstly, a constant current flowing through a conductor creates a constant magnetic field. Secondly, a variable magnetic field induces a voltage in all nearby conductors, including the conductor which was used to create the magnetic field in the first place. When these two laws are combined, the resulting effect is inductance. Just like resistors are used to introduce a desired resistance in a circuit, and like capacitors are used to introduce a desired capacitance, inductors are electrical elements used to introduce a desired amount of inductance into the circuit. The inductance formula for an ideal solenoid (a coil of wire) wound around a cylindrical body of material is given as: where L is the inductance, µ is the magnetic permeability of the material used in the inductor, A is the cross-sectional area of the coil and l is the length of the solenoid (not the length of the wire, but the longitudinal dimension of the coil). An ideal capacitor has no resistance and no inductance, but has a defined and constant value of capacitance. The unit used to represent inductance is henry, named after Joseph Henry, an American scientist who discovered inductance. Parasitic inductance Parasitic inductance is an unwanted inductance effect that is unavoidably present in all real electronic devices. As opposed to deliberate inductance, which is introduced into the circuit by the use of an inductor, parasitic inductance is almost always an undesired effect. There are few applications in which parasitic inductance is [… read more]

## Capacitance

What is capacitance? Electric capacitance is the ability of a conducting body to accumulate charge. The capacitance value of a capacitor is obtained by using the formula: where C is the capacitance, Q is the amount of charge stored on each electrode, and V is the voltage between the two electrodes. In real life circuits the amount of charge on one plate equals the amount of charge on the other plate of a capacitor, but these two charges are of different signs. By examining this formula it can be deduced that a 1 F capacitor holds 1 C of charge when a voltage of 1V is applied across its two terminals. The unit of capacitance The unit of capacitance is a Farad [F]. This unit can be somewhat impractical. From the vantage point of most electrical engineers, one farad is a huge capacitance value. Most electronic circuits use capacitors of only up to a few mF. There are several good reasons for this. One reason is that, when dealing with signals in an electrical circuit, as the frequency of the signal increases, the need for high capacitance capacitors decreases because, at higher frequencies, even a small capacitor can make a big impact on the circuit. Since most modern digital circuitry has a tendency to move towards higher frequencies in order to meet demands for improved processing speed, these circuits mostly use capacitors of only up to a few mF. As a result, the need for large capacitors is virtually non-existent in the signals processing parts of electrical circuits. Another reason is that high capacitance capacitors are physically large. Therefore, the use of such capacitors is avoided, especially in mobile devices. However, there have been recent technology advances in the field of supercapacitors. Thanks to these advances, it is now possible [… read more]

## Electric Charge

What is electric charge? Electric charge is a fundamental physical property of matter. Electric charge can be positive or negative. Matter repels other matter of the same charge and attracts other matter having the opposite charge. The unit used for electric charge is a Coulomb [C]. While the exact nature of charge is still unknown at a fundamental level, it is generally accepted to represent a specific state of matter which cannot be explained at the current level of scientific knowledge. Electric charge is quantized, meaning that charge can only have discrete values. An elementary charge is denoted as e, and approximately equals 1.602·10-19 C. The electron bears a charge of -e and it is a negatively charged particle. In contrast, a proton is a positively charged particle, bearing a charge of +e. An intuitive way to understand the quantized nature of charge is to imagine an electrically neutral object as a box containing an equal number of protons (positive charges) and electrons (negative charges). Protons are fixed and cannot be taken out or added to the box. Since the number of protons and electrons is equal, the total sum of the electric charge inside the box is zero for electrically neutral objects. In order to make the object negatively charged, the only way to do so is to somehow add more electrons into the box. As electrons are indivisible particles, it is only possible to add an integer number of electrons – one cannot add half an electron into the box. As a result, the total charge of the object is N times the charge of a single electron, which equals -e·N, where N is an integer number. Similarly, in order to make an object positively charged, it is necessary to remove N electrons from the box and the [… read more]

## Electric Field

What is an electric field? An electric field is a special state that exists in the space surrounding an electrically charged particle. This special state affects all charged particles placed in the electric field. The true nature of electric fields, as well as the true nature of an electric charge is still unknown to scientists, but the effects of an electric field can be measured and predicted using known equations. Just like a magnet creates an invisible magnetic field around it, which can be detected by placing a second magnet in its field and measuring the attractive or repulsive force acting on the magnets, electric charges create an electric field which can be detected by using a test charge. When a test charge is placed inside an electric field, an attractive or repulsive force acts upon it. This force is called the Coulomb force. In fact, magnetic and electric fields are not entirely separate phenomena. A magnetic field that changes with time creates – or “induces” an electric field, while a moving electric field induces a magnetic field as a direct consequence of the movement. Because these two fields are so tightly connected, the magnetic and electric fields are combined into one, unified, electromagnetic field. Electric field definition The electric field can be defined as a vector field which describes the relationship between the charge of a test particle introduced in the field and the force exerted upon this charged test particle. Where E is the electric field, F is the force exerted on the test particle introduced into the field and q is the charge of the test particle. The unit for electric field is volts per meter [V·m-1] or newtons per coulomb [N·C-1]. The application of electric field in capacitors Electromagnetism is a science which studies static and [… read more]

## Trimmer Capacitor

What are trimmer capacitors? Trimmer capacitors are variable capacitors which serve the purpose of initial calibration of equipment during manufacturing or servicing. They are not intended for end-user interaction. Trimmer capacitors are almost always mounted directly on the PCB (Printed Circuit Board), so the user does not have access to them, and set during manufacturing using a small screwdriver. Due to their nature, trimmer capacitors are cheaper than full sized variable capacitors and rated for many fewer adjustments. Trimmer capacitors are used to initially set oscillator frequency values, latencies, rise and fall times and other variables in a circuit. Should the values drift over time, these trimmer capacitors allow repairmen to re-calibrate equipment when needed. There are two types of trimmer capacitors: air trimmer capacitor and ceramic trimmer capacitor. Trimmer capacitor definition A trimmer capacitor is a variable capacitor used for initial calibration and recalibration of equipment. It is commonly mounted directly on a PCB and accessed only by professional repairmen, not the end-user. Characteristics Voltage rating, capacitance range, polarity Trimmer capacitors can be rated for voltages up to 300 volts, although voltage ratings of up to 100 volts are much more common. Since trim caps are variable capacitors, they come in a capacitance range rather than a single capacitance value. The minimum capacitance is usually between 0.5 pF and 10 pF, while the maximum capacitance is usually between 1 pF and 120 pF. The actual capacitance value can be varied between the minimum and maximum capacitance values for a given trimmer capacitor, but it can never be set to zero. It is worth noting that trimmer capacitors are not polarized. Tolerances and accuracy Trimmer capacitors do not boast a good capacitance value tolerance. Sometimes, the tolerances can be as high as -0 to +100%. This means that a trimmer [… read more]