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Electric circuit

An electric circuit is a closed path (with no breaks or gaps) along which electrical charges (electrons) flow powered by an energy source.

Representing electric circuits

Components of electrical circuits

Some common elements (components) which can be found in electrical circuits include light bulbs, batteries, connecting leads, switches, resistors, voltmeters and ammeters. You will learn more about these items in later sections, but it is important to know what their symbols are and how to represent them in circuit diagrams. Below is a table with the items and their symbols:

Component Symbol Usage
light bulb
glows when charge moves through it
The longer line shows the positive (+) side of the battery, the shorter line shows the (-) side of the battery.
provides energy for charge to move - conventional current flow from positive to negative through a circuit
allows a circuit to be open or closed
resists the flow of charge
measures potential difference
measures current in a circuit
connecting lead
connects circuit elements together

Circuit diagrams

Representing circuits

A physical circuit is the electric circuit you create with real components.

A circuit diagram is a drawing which uses symbols to represent the different components in the physical circuit.

We use circuit diagrams to represent circuits because they are much simpler and more general than drawing the physical circuit because they only show the workings of the electrical components. You can see this in the two pictures below. The first picture shows the physical circuit for an electric torch. You can see the light bulb, the batteries, the switch and the outside plastic casing of the torch. The picture is actually a cross-section of the torch so that we can see inside it.

Physical components of an electric torch. The dotted line shows the path of the electrical circuit.

Below is the circuit diagram for the electric torch. Now the light bulb is represented by its symbol, as are the batteries, the switch and the connecting wires. It is not necessary to show the plastic casing of the torch since it has nothing to do with the electric workings of the torch. You can see that the circuit diagram is much simpler than the physical circuit drawing!

Circuit diagram of an electric torch.

Series and parallel circuits

There are two ways to connect electrical components in a circuit: in series or in parallel .

Series circuit

In a series circuit, the charge flowing from the battery can only flow along a single path to return to the battery.

Parallel circuit

In a parallel circuit, the charge flowing from the battery can flow along multiple paths to return to the battery.

The picture below shows a circuit with two resistors connected in series on the left and a circuit with two resistors connected in parallel on the right. In the series circiut, the charge path from the battery goes through every component before returning to the battery. In the parallel circuit, there is more than one path for the charge to flow from the battery through one of the components and back to the battery.

This simulation allows you to experiment with building circuits.

run demo

Draw the circuit diagram for a circuit which has the following components:

  1. 1 battery
  2. 1 lightbulb connected in series
  3. 2 resistors connected in parallel

Draw the circuit diagram for a circuit which has the following components:

  1. 3 batteries in series
  2. 1 lightbulb connected in parallel with 1 resistor
  3. a switch in series with the batteries


  1. Using physical components, set up the physical circuit which is described by the circuit diagram below and then draw the physical circuit:
  2. Using physical components, set up a closed circuit which has one battery and a light bulb in series with a resistor.
    1. Draw the physical circuit.
    2. Draw the resulting circuit diagram.
    3. How do you know that you have built a closed circuit? (What happens to the light bulb?)
    4. If you add one more resistor to your circuit (also in series), what do you notice? (What happens to the light from the light bulb?)
    5. Draw the new circuit diagram which includes the second resistor.
  3. Draw the circuit diagram for the following circuit: 2 batteries and a switch in series, and 1 lightbulb which is in parallel with two resistors.
    1. Now use physical components to set up the circuit.
    2. What happens when you close the switch? What does does this mean about the circuit?
    3. Draw the physical circuit.

Discussion : alternative energy

At the moment, most electric power is produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. In South Africa, our main source of electric power is coal-burning power stations.(We also have one nuclear power plant called Koeberg in the Western Cape). However, burning fossil fuels releases large amounts of pollution into the earth's atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Also, the earth's fossil fuel reserves (especially oil) are starting to run low. For these reasons, people all across the world are working to find alternative /other sources of energy and on ways to conserve /save energy. Other sources of energy include wind power, solar power (from the sun), and hydro-electric power (from water, e.g. dammed rivers) among others.

With a partner, take out the lists you made earlier of the item/appliances/machines which used electricity in the following environments. For each item, try to think of an alternative AND a way to conserve or save power.

For example, if you had a flourescent light as an item used in the home, then:

  • Alternative: use candles at suppertime to reduce electricity consumption
  • Conservation: turn off lights when not in a room, or during the day.


  • At home
  • At school
  • At the hospital
  • In the city

Once you have finished making your lists, compare with the lists of other people in your class.

Questions & Answers

are nano particles real
Missy Reply
Hello, if I study Physics teacher in bachelor, can I study Nanotechnology in master?
Lale Reply
no can't
where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
nanopartical of organic/inorganic / physical chemistry , pdf / thesis / review
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
has a lot of application modern world
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
ya I also want to know the raman spectra
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
nanocopper obvius
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
Richard is sitting on his chair and reading a newspaper three (3) meters away from the door
Jeo Reply
The fundamental frequency of a sonometer wire streached by a load of relative density 's'are n¹ and n² when the load is in air and completly immersed in water respectively then the lation n²/na is
Mukesh Reply
Properties of longitudinal waves
Sharoon Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Siyavula textbooks: grade 10 physical science [caps]. OpenStax CNX. Sep 30, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11305/1.7
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