Introduction: How to Get Started and Understand Electronics
For many people, the thought of getting into electronics and actually trying to create their own projects is very intimidating. Electronics seems like a very complicated field, and in reality, it can be. There is always something more to learn and something more to try. However, when you break it all down and take it a single step at a time, it is possible to get a grasp of basic electronics. Once you have a firm grasp of those things, you can begin to develop more and more complex projects of your own. It is more than merely a fun hobby; it is a great skill to have.
First, learn the basics, and learn as much as you can about the basics. Read books on the subject, check out websites and articles similar to this, and spend time understanding all of the various components used in electronics. Even small electronics can give you a shock if you are not careful. Starting with smaller projects and continuing to add to your knowledge will make it easier to get a grasp on electronics.
What is Electricity?
Electricity is one of the most important forces in our lives today, and without the ability to harness and utilize electricity, the world would be a very different place. However, many people do not really understand electricity, and it can be hard to agree on a concrete definition. Electricity is a natural phenomenon and it can take a variety of different forms. Electricity is the flow of an electric charge, but it helps to go a bit deeper to understand where that electric charge originates.
All atoms contain particles, protons, and neutrons. Protons are positively charged and neutrons are neutral. Electrons surround the atom’s nucleus, and they have a negative charge. The negative and positive elements in an atom, the electrons, and protons are generally the same. When some type of external force disrupts this balanced nature, the atom may lose an electron. When the electron is free, it creates or is a part of, an electric current.
What is the Difference between AC and DC?
Electricity flows in AC (alternating current) or DC (direct current). The major difference between these is the direction in which the electrons flow. In DC, the electrons will have a steady flow in one direction. They move forward. However, in AC, the electrons will switch directions. Sometimes they will go forward and sometimes they will go backwards.
What is a Circuit?
A circuit is a closed loop through which electrons will travel. Circuits need to have some type of electrical source, such as a battery, which will provide the necessary electrical energy to the circuit. The circuit provides a pathway through which the current will flow. The circuit will form a loop, so the start point and the end are the same. Circuits can be simple or complex, but all will share three of the same basic elements. They need a voltage source, such as the aforementioned battery. They also need to have the conductive pathway, or route through which the electrons pass. The circuit also needs a load, or the device that uses the electricity. A good example would be a light bulb.
Of course, when talking about complex circuits, there are more elements to consider, such as resistors and capacitors.
What is the Difference between an Open and Closed Circuit?
A closed-circuit will allow electricity to pass through it, while an open circuit does not. The wires, or route, in a closed circuit, attach to the battery and the bulb or other load, thus powering them. The open circuits do not make that connection, and thus, will not power the device.
What is Considered Resistance in Electricity? How Can Resistance be Measured?
Resistance is the repulsion of current within an electrical circuit. The resistance helps one to make sense of the way voltage and current work. Voltage is the amount of electrical pressure, while current is the flow of electricity. Resistance, discovered in 1827 by Georg Simon Ohm, is actually the ratio between voltage and current. Ohms law states, “The voltage between any two points in a conductor changes directly as the current between the two points, given the temperature remains the same and does not change.” One can measure and determine the resistance by using Ohm’s formula:
R stands for resistance (measured in ohms), while V is the voltage (measured in volts) and I is the current going through the object (measured in amperes).
What is the Difference between Serial Versus Parallel?
In a serial circuit, the current will have to flow through one section or device and then flow through the next section in a series. In these types of circuits, the resistance is generally greater because it is more difficult to have the current flow through two devices. In a parallel circuit, the devices are located on separate pathways, so some of the current flows through one device while the rest of the current flows through the other device at the same time. This lowers the resistance since it is easier for the current to flow through the resistors.
What Are the Basic Electronic Components Used by Most Electronics Projects?
⦁ Resistors – These are very important for electrical circuits. They help to direct the flow of current into various parts of the circuit, and they can determine the voltage of an amplifier. Most of the time, they are made of metal wire or carbon. They do not produce light, but they can produce heat. You can usually recognize the symbol for a resistor by the telltale zigzag line:
⦁ Capacitors – A capacitor is a device that stores an electrical charge. They will usually have one or more pairs of conductors separated by an insulator. The capacitor is common in many types of electrical circuits. They can help to block DC while letting AC pass. The symbol you will most commonly see for a general capacitor is:
⦁ LEDs – LEDs are light-emitting diodes. Some circuits will utilize LEDs, and there are a number of different ways to power them since they have semiconductors. A basic LED circuit will contain:
⦁ Transistors – A transistor is a semi-conductor that can amplify and switch electronic signals and power. They will have at least three terminals that will connect to an external circuit. Many different types of transistors are available, including NPN bipolar transistors, which allow current flow with a high potential at the base and PNP transistors, which allow current flow with a low potential at the base. Symbols for these types of transistors are as follows:
⦁ Integrated Circuits – An integrated circuit, also called an IC, is actually a set of electronic circuits that are on a single chip made from some type of semiconductor material. These are generally quite small, and they are in many different types of electronics today, including mobile phones and computers. Each year, the size of these types of circuits keeps getting smaller and smaller, which is why powerful electronics can be smaller.
⦁ Potentiometers – A potentiometer, also called a pot informally, is a three terminal resistor that has a sliding contract and is able to work as an adjustable voltage divider. When only using two terminals, it acts like a rheostat. Symbols for potentiometers are:
⦁ Diodes – A diode is a two terminal electronic component. They have low to zero resistance in one direction and high resistance in the other direction. The term for this is asymmetric conductance. The common symbol for a general diode is:
⦁ Switches –One of the simplest types of switches is a simple on and off switch. However, they can have others that control how the circuit works, as well as switches that activate various features on the circuit. Some of the most common types of switches include slide, toggle, rotary, rocker, knife and pushbutton. Naturally, different types of switches have different symbols, some of which include:
⦁ Batteries – Batteries are the simplest way to provide a voltage source in order to power the circuit. They convert the chemical energy into electric energy.
⦁ Breadboard – The breadboard is a term for construction prototypes of various types of electronic circuits. It is possible to use these without soldering, which means they are reusable. Many use these to ensure the circuit will work properly before using printed circuit boards. They have an upper and lower bus as well as upper and lower terminal rows.
⦁ Wire – Wire, or jumper wires for circuits are helpful in ensuring proper routing through a circuit. The symbol for wire in a schematic:
How to Build Your First Circuit
When you are building your first circuits, it is generally a good idea to keep things relatively simple. This allows you to get a better look at the various parts of the circuit so you can see how each of the items on the board work. You can eventually start to move on to complicated projects as you gain more knowledge.
Example 1: A Simple Circuit
Here is one of the simplest circuits you can make. You will need to have a 10V bulb, a bulb holder, and a 9V battery, as well as two lengths of wire. Choose different colored wires. Red and black will work well.
First, screw the bulb into the bulb holder.
Next, use a wire stripper to remove the coating on the ends of your wires. You should remove about an inch from each of the sides of the wire.
Take the red wire and connect one end of it to the positive terminal on the 9V battery. Connect the other end to the center of the bulb holder. Then, take the black wire and connect one end to the negative terminal on the battery, and connect the other end to one of the sides of the bulb holder. In most batteries, including car batteries, red stands for positive and black for negative, so it makes sense to use these wires in a similar manner.
As soon as you attach those wires, your bulb will light up. It does not get much easier than this.
Example 2: A Little More Advanced Circuit
It is possible to create circuits that have a little bit more going on as well. This one has a few more parts and pieces, but it is still something you can accomplish relatively easily and quickly.
The simple circuit here will have just a few parts – a battery (9V), a resistor, and an LED, a breadboard that doesn’t have any solder on it, 470 Ω, 1/4 W resistor, a 9V battery snap connector, and about an inch of jumper wire. These components are relatively easy to gather, and you can build this circuit in no time.
To build the circuit, connect the battery snap connector by inserting the red lead into the top bus strip on the board and the black lead into the bottom bus strip. It does not matter which hole you choose.
Next, you will add the resistor. Place one end into one of the holes in the bottom bus strip and one of the holes in the terminal strip.
Then, connect the LED. One of the leads will generally be shorter than the other one is. Take the short lead and put that one into one of the holes in the top bus strip. The longer lead will go into the terminal strip. Make sure the LED and the resistor are in the same row.
Next, take the length of jumper wire and connect the two terminal strips in the middle of the breadboard. Place one piece of the wire into the bottom terminal and the other into the top terminal.
At that point, the LED will light up and you will have completed your circuit.
And Now What? Design Your Own Circuit
Now that you have the basics and you have taken the time to practice with a couple of simple circuits, you can start designing your own. As you continue to learn more about circuits, you will be able to create more complex and interesting designs.