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# electric circuit

electric circuit, unbroken path along which an electric current exists or is intended or able to flow. A simple circuit might consist of an electric cell (the power source), two conducting wires (one end of each being attached to each terminal of the cell), and a small lamp (the load) to which the free ends of the wires leading from the cell are attached. When the connections are made properly, current flows, the circuit is said to be "closed," and the lamp will light. The current flows from the cell along one wire to the lamp, through the lamp, and along the other wire back to the cell. When the wires are disconnected, the circuit is said to be "open" or "broken." In practice, circuits are opened by such devices as switches, fuses, and circuit breakers (see fuse, electric; circuit breaker; short circuit). Two general circuit classifications are series and parallel. The elements of a series circuit are connected end to end; the same current flows through its parts one after another. The elements of a parallel circuit are connected so that each component has the same voltage across its terminals; the current flow is divided among its parts. When two circuit elements are connected in series, their effective resistance (impedance if the circuit is being fed alternating current) is equal to the sum of the separate resistances; the current is the same in each component throughout the circuit. When circuit elements are connected in parallel, the total resistance is less than that of the element having the least resistance, and the total current is equal to the sum of the currents in the individual branches. A battery-powered circuit is an example of a direct-current circuit; the voltages and currents are constant in magnitude and do not vary with time. In alternating-current circuits, the voltage and current periodically reverse direction with time. A standard electrical outlet supplies alternating current. Lighting circuits and electrical machinery use alternating current circuits. Many other devices, including computers, stereo systems, and television sets, must first convert the alternating current to direct current. That is done by a special internal circuit usually called a power supply. A digital circuit is a special kind of electronic circuit used in computers and many other devices. Magnetic circuits are analogous to electric circuits, where magnetic materials are regarded as conductors of magnetic flux. Magnetic circuits can be part of an electric circuit; a transformer is an example. Equivalent circuits are used in circuit analysis as a modeling tool; a simple circuit made up of a resistor, and an inductor might be used to electrically represent a loudspeaker. Electrical circuits can also be used in other fields of studies. In the study of heat flow, for example, a resistor is used to represent thermal insulation. Operating electric circuits can be used for general problem solving (as in an analog computer).
circuit, electric: see electric circuit.

Electrically conducting pathway containing both inductance and capacitance elements. When these elements are connected in series, the circuit presents low electrical impedance to alternating current of the same frequency as the resonance frequency of the circuit and high impedance to current of other frequencies. The circuit's resonance frequency is determined by the values of inductance and capacitance. When the circuit elements are connected in parallel, the impedance is high at the resonance frequency and low at other frequencies. With their ability to pass only certain frequencies, tuned circuits are important in, for example, radio and television receivers.

Electrical device in which the wiring and certain components consist of a thin coat of electrically conductive material applied in a pattern on an insulating substrate. Printed circuits replaced conventional wiring after World War II in much electronic equipment, greatly reducing size and weight while improving reliability and uniformity over the hand-soldered circuits formerly used. They are commonly used to mount integrated circuits on boards for use as plug-in units in computers, televisions, and other electronic devices. Mass-produced printed circuit boards allow automated assembly of electronic components, considerably reducing their cost.

or microcircuit or chip or microchip

Assembly of microscopic electronic components (transistors, diodes, capacitors, and resistors) and their interconnections fabricated as a single unit on a wafer of semiconducting material, especially silicon. Early ICs of the late 1950s consisted of about 10 components on a chip 0.12 in. (3 mm) square. Very large-scale integration (VLSI) vastly increased circuit density, giving rise to the microprocessor. The first commercially successful IC chip (Intel, 1974) had 4,800 transistors; Intel's Pentium (1993) had 3.2 million, and more than a billion are now achievable.

or electric circuit

Path that transmits electric current. A circuit includes a battery or a generator that gives energy to the charged particles; devices that use current, such as lamps, motors, or electronic computers; and connecting wires or transmission lines. Circuits can be classified according to the type of current they carry (see alternating current, direct current) or according to whether the current remains whole (series) or divides to flow through several branches simultaneously (parallel). Two basic laws that describe the performance of electric circuits are Ohm's law and Kirchhoff's circuit rules. Seealso tuned circuit.