# Strange questions about electrical circuits

• Guidestone
In summary: VBattery - VLED)/R. VLED is ≈ 1.5V.The battery acts as an electron lifter. Using the height analogue: If a ball falls from the roof, it loses potential energy. The fall itself is analogue to the current through the resistor. If you take the ball and place it on the roof again, you act as a battery. The power consumed by a component is the current through it times the voltage across it. The same amount of current will flow through both the resistor and the LED. The LED will drop some voltage (consume some power), as will the resistor. The voltage drop of the LED plus the voltage drop of the resistor equal the voltage of the battery. It doesn't matter
Guidestone
What's up people? I'm new in this wonderful forum. I have several questions about circuits, and they are not really common, I mean, I find them somehow complicated, but I would really come to enlightenment if you guys gave me some clues.

1.- So, let's suppose we got the simplest circuit, a battery, two cables and a resistor in the middle of them, obviously everything is connected. The resistor is supposed to consume the whole voltage of the battery, no problem with that. However, the problem is that I can't understand how electrons can get back to where they started, I mean, it's a circuit, but there's a point in it where electrons loose their whole energy but still they have energy to get to the positive end of the battery. Why don't they just get stuck in the resistor?

2.- If I place an LED in the previous circuit, order doesn't seem to matter. It's irrelevant wether I place it before or after the resistance. Why is that?

3.- How can an LED light on in the circuit when the whole voltage is consumed by the resistance? Does the resistance in the LED matter? Does it act like a voltage divider then?

4.- if it was possible to follow an electron from the beginning to the end of the circuit, does it recover it's lost voltage when it gets back to the battery?

1. You do not consume voltage. Think of voltage as an analogue to height. If you place a ladder from the ground to your roof, the height of the roof is not consumed. What happens is that the resistor allows a current to flow.
2. The LED lights up when current passes through it. In the circuit it acts as a fixed voltage drop of about 1.5V
3. The voltage is not consumed. The current through the LED is determined by (VBattery - VLED)/R. VLED is ≈ 1.5V.
4. The battery acts as an electron lifter. Using the height analogue: If a ball falls from the roof, it loses potential energy. The fall itself is analogue to the current through the resistor. If you take the ball and place it on the roof again, you act as a battery.

PhiowPhi and davenn
Guidestone said:
3.- How can an LED light on in the circuit when the whole voltage is consumed by the resistance? Does the resistance in the LED matter? Does it act like a voltage divider then?

yes, as Svein says , you need to stop using the words voltage is consumed
and with that keep in mind ... voltage DOESN'T flow

Voltage is dropped across components be they resistor, capacitors transistor etc
because you have now added another component in series with the resistor ( namely the LED), there is now a voltage drop across
each component. if you know from the datasheet what the voltage drop across the LED will be say the around 1.5V that Svein used
then you know what voltage will be dropped across the resistor is say the power supply is 10V

Yes it becomes a voltage divider

you do some working out for more than 1 resistor in series and work out the voltage drop across each resistor
for simplicity let's use resistors of the same value

1 resistor across a 10V supply will drop the full 10V ( 10/1 = 10)
2 resistors across a 10V supply will drop 5V each (10/2 = 5)
3 resistors across a 10V supply will drop 3.33V each (10/3 = 3.33 recurring (9.99999V ))see the pattern ? for different value resistors another step needs to be taken
wont go into that for nowDave

The power consumed by a component is the current through it times the voltage across it. The same amount of current will flow through both the resistor and the LED.
The LED will drop some voltage (consume some power), as will the resistor. The voltage drop of the LED plus the voltage drop of the resistor equal the voltage of the battery.
It doesn't matter where in the circuit the LED is, it will have the same current going through it. That current causes a constant voltage drop (determined by the LED's characteristics).

If there is no LED, all the voltage is dropped across the resistor. Add the LED, and some voltage is across the LED and some is across the resistor (and the current is less because the LED plus resistor present more total resistance to the battery)

I guess I'll commit the hydro analogy sin.

Think of a hose feeding an orifice. Pressure (voltage) forces water (current) through the orifice.

Now place a flow meter in the system. The flow will be the same whether before or after the orifice (even though the pressure is different). The flow meter needs some pressure across it in order to work.

Voltage is force (electromotive force). Current is moving charges (electrons). Power is the force times the movement: Power = Volts times Amps.

Resistance is where the power goes (heat): Volts divided by Amps = Resistance.

Batteries provide electrons at one end with some force. (i.e. power) The other end consumes electrons. (They come from and go into chemicals.)

An LED takes some of the power and converts it to light instead of heat. So when you put it in the circuit, it takes a certain minimum force (1.5V) and whatever current flows through it: VLED times AmpsLED = PowerLED

Wow! That was quick! Thank everyone for your replies. But the matter goes on. Damn! Electricity challenges me so bad!

Svein said:
1. You do not consume voltage. Think of voltage as an analogue to height. If you place a ladder from the ground to your roof, the height of the roof is not consumed. What happens is that the resistor allows a current to flow.
2. The LED lights up when current passes through it. In the circuit it acts as a fixed voltage drop of about 1.5V
3. The voltage is not consumed. The current through the LED is determined by (VBattery - VLED)/R. VLED is ≈ 1.5V.
4. The battery acts as an electron lifter. Using the height analogue: If a ball falls from the roof, it loses potential energy. The fall itself is analogue to the current through the resistor. If you take the ball and place it on the roof again, you act as a battery.

Ok, voltage is not consumed, got it.
So a resistor allows a current to flow, what happens when I plug both ends of a cable to the ends of the battery without any resistance? There's an infinite current circulating, and there's still a current. So a resistor just avoids currents from being infinite then? What happens in terms of height when there are two or more resistors?

davenn said:
yes, as Svein says , you need to stop using the words voltage is consumed
and with that keep in mind ... voltage DOESN'T flow

Voltage is dropped across components be they resistor, capacitors transistor etc
because you have now added another component in series with the resistor ( namely the LED), there is now a voltage drop across
each component. if you know from the datasheet what the voltage drop across the LED will be say the around 1.5V that Svein used
then you know what voltage will be dropped across the resistor is say the power supply is 10V

Yes it becomes a voltage divider

you do some working out for more than 1 resistor in series and work out the voltage drop across each resistor
for simplicity let's use resistors of the same value

1 resistor across a 10V supply will drop the full 10V ( 10/1 = 10)
2 resistors across a 10V supply will drop 5V each (10/2 = 5)
3 resistors across a 10V supply will drop 3.33V each (10/3 = 3.33 recurring (9.99999V ))see the pattern ? for different value resistors another step needs to be taken
wont go into that for nowDave

So, voltage doesn't flow, but if I place a voltmeter between the ends of a resistor it measures some voltage through it, is that the voltage drop? What's that exactly?

meBigGuy said:
The power consumed by a component is the current through it times the voltage across it. The same amount of current will flow through both the resistor and the LED.
The LED will drop some voltage (consume some power), as will the resistor. The voltage drop of the LED plus the voltage drop of the resistor equal the voltage of the battery.
It doesn't matter where in the circuit the LED is, it will have the same current going through it. That current causes a constant voltage drop (determined by the LED's characteristics).

If there is no LED, all the voltage is dropped across the resistor. Add the LED, and some voltage is across the LED and some is across the resistor (and the current is less because the LED plus resistor present more total resistance to the battery)

I guess I'll commit the hydro analogy sin.

Think of a hose feeding an orifice. Pressure (voltage) forces water (current) through the orifice.

Now place a flow meter in the system. The flow will be the same whether before or after the orifice (even though the pressure is different). The flow meter needs some pressure across it in order to work.
You got the same current across every component, but in the case of a battery using cables plugged to a resistor, how can the current be the same when you got cables with cero resistance in some parts of the circuit and the resistor itself in the middle? How is that characteristic supposed to remain fixed when the conditions in the different locations are so different from one another?

Thank you guys!

Jeff Rosenbury said:
Voltage is force (electromotive force). Current is moving charges (electrons). Power is the force times the movement: Power = Volts times Amps.

Resistance is where the power goes (heat): Volts divided by Amps = Resistance.

Batteries provide electrons at one end with some force. (i.e. power) The other end consumes electrons. (They come from and go into chemicals.)

An LED takes some of the power and converts it to light instead of heat. So when you put it in the circuit, it takes a certain minimum force (1.5V) and whatever current flows through it: VLED times AmpsLED = PowerLED

Thank you for your reply bro. So, if voltage is an electromotive force, Can we say a resistor requires more of this force to get electrons through it? Is it truth that it is the electric field that provokes this force? Can we say that the electromotive force is caused by the electrostatic forces of the ends of the battery? I mean, is this force caused by the fact that electrons are repelled from the negative end of the battery and attracted to the positive one?

Guidestone said:
So, voltage doesn't flow, but if I place a voltmeter between the ends of a resistor it measures some voltage through it, is that the voltage drop?
There is no "voltage through it". There may be a voltage across it, as a result of current passing through it.
Guidestone said:
So a resistor allows a current to flow, what happens when I plug both ends of a cable to the ends of the battery without any resistance? There's an infinite current circulating, and there's still a current.
There is an internal resistance in the battery, which limits the current. This internal resistance can be very low, however, so don't try this with a 12V car battery!

Guidestone said:
Thank you for your reply bro. So, if voltage is an electromotive force, Can we say a resistor requires more of this force to get electrons through it? Is it truth that it is the electric field that provokes this force? Can we say that the electromotive force is caused by the electrostatic forces of the ends of the battery? I mean, is this force caused by the fact that electrons are repelled from the negative end of the battery and attracted to the positive one?
Yes, that's mostly true.

I was playing fast and loose with the definitions. Voltage, Electromotive Force, and The Electric Field are all closely related concepts. They have slightly different definitions (Voltage is a unit for example) but are basically the same thing. As you come to understand the concepts you will need to go back and restudy them with an eye to their actual definitions.

Resistance doesn't need more force. What it does is slow the electron flow. So increasing the resistance will decrease the current for the same voltage. Or, as you say, we can get the same number of electrons to flow (through more resistance) by raising the voltage.

V=IR: This is Ohm's law. It is the most basic equation in electronics. Learn it. Manipulate it. Love it. As you get deeply into the EE field you will use it in more and deeper ways. It works in vectors. It works with time variations. It works with space variations.

Guidestone said:
What happens in terms of height when there are two or more resistors?

The voltage (height) is divided between them.

Guidestone said:
So, voltage doesn't flow, but if I place a voltmeter between the ends of a resistor it measures some voltage through across it, is that the voltage drop? What's that exactly?

Yes it's the voltage drop across that resistor. If you like the height analogy.. it's a bit like measuring the height between the floors in a building. If you measure the height of all the floors they add up to the height of the building.

Guidestone said:
You got the same current across through every component, but in the case of a battery using cables plugged to a resistor, how can the current be the same when you got cables with cero resistance in some parts of the circuit and the resistor itself in the middle? How is that characteristic supposed to remain fixed when the conditions in the different locations are so different from one another?

How can the current be different? Consider charge leaves the battery and flows down a wire and through the resistor. Where else can it go? There are no "leaks" or extra sources in your simple circuit. If there were two resistors in PARALLEL then some would take one path and some the other. The current wouldn't necessarily be the same in each path. Add up the amount taking each path and its the same as the total leaving the battery.

Reminder.. Voltages appear "across" a component or "between" nodes. Currents flow "through" a component.

CWatters said:
The voltage (height) is divided between them.
Yes it's the voltage drop across that resistor. If you like the height analogy.. it's a bit like measuring the height between the floors in a building. If you measure the height of all the floors they add up to the height of the building.
How can the current be different? Consider charge leaves the battery and flows down a wire and through the resistor. Where else can it go? There are no "leaks" or extra sources in your simple circuit. If there were two resistors in PARALLEL then some would take one path and some the other. The current wouldn't necessarily be the same in each path. Add up the amount taking each path and its the same as the total leaving the battery.

Reminder.. Voltages appear "across" a component or "between" nodes. Currents flow "through" a component.

Ok, I got two problems in here. First of all, what I still don't get is the before and the after when it comes to current, there are points in the circuit with different resistance each one, for instance, the cables got zero resistance and the resistor has its own value. If the value of current depends on resistance , then there should be more electrons going through the cable before the resistance than the number of electrons after the resistance, but still we asume current is the same in every part of the circuit, and this includes the battery doesn't it?
Second: Through and across, there's little difference to me. As I know, across is less specific and means getting from one point to another without necesarily getting inside something. Am I right?
I'm sorry for being such a headache. I'm really understanding things better in here; in fact, I'm excited because this is the first time I'm really feeling free to ask this kind of questions, and the first time someone actually takes the time to answer them. Thanks a lot again!

It seems the quote I did above is incomplete sigh
Anyway, there's something else I want to ask.
What if I have very little voltage and very long conductors? Resistance is also directly proportional to length. Will electrons still make it? I mean, will they akways reach the opposite end regardless of this condition?
Namasté, my fellow and wise colleagues

Guidestone said:
It seems the quote I did above is incomplete sigh
Anyway, there's something else I want to ask.
What if I have very little voltage and very long conductors? Resistance is also directly proportional to length. Will electrons still make it? I mean, will they akways reach the opposite end regardless of this condition?
Namasté, my fellow and wise colleagues
Yes, they will make it, but it could take a while.

Guidestone said:
If the value of current depends on resistance , then there should be more electrons going through the cable before the resistance than the number of electrons after the resistance,

the number of electrons leaving the battery will equal the number of electrons returning to the battery
No electrons were lost or harmed in the process
but still we asume current is the same in every part of the circuit, and this includes the battery doesn't it?

we don't assume anything ... Ohms Law tells us the current flowing with a given voltage and resistance

I = V / R
Guidestone said:
What if I have very little voltage and very long conductors? Resistance is also directly proportional to length. Will
electrons still make it? I mean, will they akways reach the opposite end regardless of this condition?

In a DC circuit, yes they will ... electron drift is very slow

In an AC circuit, you are likely never to see the electrons from the generator wire windings reach you home
as they are just oscillating back and forward about a fixed position

Dave

I think of resistors as friction to the flow of electrons, could someone clarify this as being true or false?

True or false doesn't really apply to an analogy. Wikipedia says "Electrical resistance shares some conceptual parallels with the notion of mechanical friction." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrical_resistance_and_conductance.

The hydraulic analogy would say it is more like an orifice causing a pressure drop.

It's kind of hard to visualize a material with fewer free electrons (therefore higher resistance) as exhibiting friction.

good to know, read and saved the link. should have realized that by remembering the makeup of carbon comp resistors.

@ Guidestone

Please review the hydraulic analogy in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrical_resistance_and_conductance. Then you can ask questions about how that analogy breaks down. (read about the hydraulic analogy in other places also).

Note that when you start a hydraulic flow, (in a system with no air gaps) that water comes out of the end immediately upon applying pressure, not just after the input water reaches the output. The water flow is the same all along the system (but the pressure can change). No more can go in than comes out (unless there are storage elements)

It doesn't seem like you are really thinking about or digesting what others are telling you. Maybe reread some basic electrical theory. You are totally missing the basic points.

Just a word of caution to add to what meBigguy wrote above: The answers above are great, but It is important to remember that the water analogy is just that: an analogy. Electrons do not actually "flow" in a circuit in the way it is often explained (i.e. electrons leaving and then returning to a battery) which is why the water analogy breaks down if you think too hard about it and take it too literally. The water analogy e.g. breaks down if you try to understand why it is that while electrons actually move very slowly (cm per seconds), electrical signals travel very quickly (~3e8 meters per second); the analogy does not really tell you anything about the underlying physics.

None of what I wrote above is very important if you are only trying to understand the basics (where the water analogy works well), but I've seen people get severely confused because they did not realize the limitations of this analogy.

Guidestone said:
So, if voltage is an electromotive force,
Emf is not a Force. The notion of a Force in Electrical circuits was discarded many years ago but the term 'emf' still hangs on. It is a 'special' term that 'we' use with our fingers crossed. Also Resistance is not 'a form of friction inside wires'. Beginners with Electricity are always tempted to grab onto mechanical analogies but they really don't help. Difficult as it may seem, the best thing to do is to rehearse, again and again. that Voltage is the Work Done in transferring a unit charge. It is the Joules per Coulomb. Then Resistance is just a ratio between Volts and Current. 'Fraid that both these definitions are not very friendly but they help to keep your mind away from dodgy mechanical analogies. Just get into the world of Electricity and don't expect Mechanics to hold your hand reliably. This advice may be tiresome but it would be really worth your while to take it (in the long run) - if you want to understand the subject and not just get on with it for the purposes of making electrical gadgets work or repairing them. Water analogies are sometimes used on technician courses and in the armed services but they will turn out to be a snare and a delusion if you want a deep knowledge.

deskswirl
The water analogy is only useful to the point where you start noticing that it has limitations. Then you need to totally discard ALL mechanical analogies and do as Sophie said.

meBigGuy said:
The water analogy is only useful to the point where you start noticing that it has limitations.
The problem is that an uninitiated student just can't know where those limitations kick in. It doesn't help that the person 'explaining' Electricity with an analogy, happens to know the limitations if the student the runs off with that helpful analogy in their head and starts to extrapolate with it in the wrong direction.
OK, use an analogy occasionally but make sure it's heavily laced with caveats. Frankly, I can't see it can ever be more useful than the real thing because Electricity is not really 'like' anything else and that's a very important message for a beginner.

OmCheeto
For me its a last resort, but the OP just was not trying or not getting it after many good explanations. So, I dragged it out (against my better judgement). I'd rather debate the water analogy than deal with the OP's continual misunderstandings. He was hardly trying. I doubt he ever read a basic electronics book.

Just curious - Is there any good visual teaching software for base level electrical circuit theory ??

meBigGuy said:
For me its a last resort, but the OP just was not trying or not getting it after many good explanations. So, I dragged it out (against my better judgement). I'd rather debate the water analogy than deal with the OP's continual misunderstandings. He was hardly trying. I doubt he ever read a basic electronics book.
I totally sympathise and my last post was not really critical of your remarks. I just feel that PF should make a real point of being cruel to be kind and to avoid such analogies, which are, basically giving into demands from 'the other side'. We all know there is no quick and dirty way to get a grip on EE. The OP is welcome to try to do it his own way but I foresee disaster in that direction.

I totally disagree.

Analogies are an excellent way to get a conceptual grip on a new idea.

Nidum said:
Just curious - Is there any good visual teaching software for base level electrical circuit theory ??
I use QUCS.

Its free, very simple to use for base level circuit theory. You can easily output nice looking graphs and tables.

And as one becomes more experienced, its very powerful.

Nidum
William White said:
I totally disagree.

Analogies are an excellent way to get a conceptual grip on a new idea.
You are welcome to that opinion but how are you evaluating the success of your use of analogies? Merely feeling better about a topic doesn't actually mean that you have cracked it.
But I would agree that 'private' analogies, that one uses for your own reasoning processes (not to help other people) can sometimes be very helpful. This is because you may be aware of the limits involved.

sophiecentaur said:
You are welcome to that opinion but how are you evaluating the success of your use of analogies? Merely feeling better about a topic doesn't actually mean that you have cracked it.
But I would agree that 'private' analogies, that one uses for your own reasoning processes (not to help other people) can sometimes be very helpful. This is because you may be aware of the limits involved.

You have to remember and consider the person's knowledge of the subject. Nobody has "cracked it" and even the world's best expert does not know it all.

All explanations are simplifications.

The type of questions being asked suggests that a complex treatment will do more harm than good.

Analogies are perfectly reasonable, because it compares an everyday familiar phenomena, water flow, that can be seen, touched, easily measured etc. with a new concept that is bewlidering and abstract.

The best teachers use analogies, and many laws describing electric circuits have direct analogies with water flow

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/electric/watcir2.html
http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/electric/watcir.html#c1

There is plenty of time in the future for the questioner to "crack it".

If you use analogies (and I'm guilty of introducing the water analogy in this thread) you will achieve a sophisticated level of misunderstanding.

The only "right" way is to read the math and intuit what it means. I = E/R : what does that really say. Kirchoffs law, etc etc

I'm a big believer in good teachers developing an intuitive explanation and then embarking on a rigorous one. But that is different than using analogies.
Analogies are a last resort for those that just can't get the picture from the math.

William White said:
You have to remember and consider the person's knowledge of the subject. Nobody has "cracked it" and even the world's best expert does not know it all.
All explanations are simplifications.

Simplifications are different than analogies. You don't need to understand maxwell's equations to develop a decent understanding of ohms law.
Few engineers understand the relationship between relativity and the appearance of E and H fields as manifestations of EMF, but they can still design antennas.

Analogies like resistance vs. friction and current vs. water flow are more than simplifications. They are downright distortions. But, they have their uses.

davenn
William White said:
There is plenty of time in the future for the questioner to "crack it".
but unfortunately by that future time, they have become so screwed up in there misunderstanding that it will take years to get them out of that
bad rut and into the real understanding of the science

Teach the real thing from the start and build on the basic concepts
meBigGuy said:
The only "right" way is to read the math and intuit what it means. I = E/R : what does that really say. Kirchoffs law, etc etc

I'm a big believer in good teachers developing an intuitive explanation and then embarking on a rigorous one. But that is different than using analogies.
Analogies are a last resort for those that just can't get the picture from the math.
yup exactly :)Dave

OmCheeto
As most of you know it is very difficult to gain any real understanding of concepts in science and engineering without a good grounding in maths .

Anyone studying these subjects formally usually gets taught adequate maths in parallel with the technical subject itself .

There are many people though with no maths who just want to understand some of these concepts at a descriptive level .

Some of you will remember programmes like 'Tomorrows World' where presenters had the knack of describing sometimes complicated subjects in a very simple way . Some science teachers could do this as well even if only as a prelude to formal studies .

Perhaps formal maths based teaching should be reserved for those people doing in depth studies and more informal non maths based teaching used for people just seeking general knowledge .

Nidum said:
Some of you will remember programmes like 'Tomorrows World' where presenters had the knack of describing sometimes complicated subjects in a very simple way
The presenters were mostly Arts graduates; very articulate and they could probably sell ice cream to the Eskimos (as they say). TW was a 'must' to watch when it was on and there were many fascinating gadgets and pictures plus some excellent entertainment. The actual Science content was often very questionable. I had some dealings with the production team and I remember a lovely howler, involving Red, Green and Blue Electrons, producing a colour TV picture. I got a very petulant reception when I pointed out that it was rubbish.
The secret of good Science Entertainment is to leave people feeling they understood what they have just heard. But it ain't Science Education. PF tries to get things far nearer to the currently accepted Science than TV Science does.
I received some very good advice when I was doing my Teacher training year. I was told that kids don't get metaphor (and that's what an analogy is). You give them a metaphor and, unless you are incredibly careful, they will take that as the FACT that the lesson is about. This can largely be because they weren't actually listening to most of the lesson and only got the bit about water squirting out of a hose. That doesn't only happen with kids either.

Whoa! I haven't read Every post. The only thing I can tell so far is that I wasn't satisfied with the water analogy. I'm the kind of obsessive-fascinated-passionate guy who tries to understand the things the closest possible as the way they really behave no matter how hard they seem to be. However, the analogy was first useful to give me a little idea of what the behavior of electricity looks a bit like. I may not be as smart as Ohm or Maxwell and I may never be, but if someone made those laws, then that person understood better than anyone the behavior of electricity, this can only mean that our understanding can improve, I believe. I'll promess I'll read each one of your posts slowly and check out the links you all have provided. I'll reply soon.
By the way, this post was rated as one of the most fascinating discussions from last week OMG!
Thanks a lot again!

Guidestone said:
By the way, this post was rated as one of the most fascinating discussions from last week OMG!
You are a star, then!
(Oh dear, is that an analogy? - Or at least, it;s a metaphor)

• Electrical Engineering
Replies
6
Views
1K
• Electrical Engineering
Replies
48
Views
4K
• Electromagnetism
Replies
16
Views
1K
• Electrical Engineering
Replies
2
Views
1K
• Electrical Engineering
Replies
26
Views
5K
• Electrical Engineering
Replies
26
Views
3K
• Classical Physics
Replies
38
Views
2K
• Electrical Engineering
Replies
6
Views
1K
• Electrical Engineering
Replies
12
Views
2K
• Electrical Engineering
Replies
12
Views
1K