Just like the Resistor, the Capacitor, sometimes referred to as a Condenser, is a simple passive device that is used to “store electricity”. The capacitor is a component which has the ability or “capacity” to store energy in the form of an electrical charge producing a potential difference (Static Voltage) across its plates, much like a small rechargeable battery.

There are many different kinds of capacitors available from very small capacitor beads used in resonance circuits to large power factor correction capacitors, but they all do the same thing, they store charge.

In its basic form, a capacitor consists of two or more parallel conductive (metal) plates which are not connected or touching each other, but is electrically separated either by air or by some form of a good insulating material such as waxed paper, mica, ceramic, plastic or some form of a liquid gel as used in electrolytic capacitors. The insulating layer between capacitors plates is commonly called the Dielectric.

Capacitor Construction

The parallel plate capacitor is the simplest form of capacitor. It can be constructed using two metal or metalized foil plates at a distance parallel to each other, with its capacitance value in Farads, being fixed by the surface area of the conductive plates and the distance of separation between them. Altering any two of these values alters the value of its capacitance and this forms the basis of operation of the variable capacitors.

Also, because capacitors store the energy of the electrons in the form of an electrical charge on the plates the larger the plates and/or smaller their separation the greater will be the charge that the capacitor holds for any given voltage across its plates. In other words, larger plates, smaller distance, more capacitance.

By applying a voltage to a capacitor and measuring the charge on the plates, the ratio of the charge Qto the voltage V will give the capacitance value of the capacitor and is therefore given as: C = Q/V this equation can also be re-arranged to give the more familiar formula for the quantity of charge on the plates as: Q = C x V

The property of a capacitor to store charge on its plates in the form of an electrostatic field is called the Capacitance of the capacitor. Not only that, but capacitance is also the property of a capacitor which resists the change of voltage across it.

The Capacitance of a Capacitor

Capacitance is the electrical property of a capacitor and is the measure of a capacitors ability to store an electrical charge onto its two plates with the unit of capacitance being the Farad (abbreviated to F) named after the British physicist Michael Faraday.

Capacitance is defined as being that a capacitor has the capacitance of One Farad when a charge of One Coulomb is stored on the plates by a voltage of One volt. Capacitance, C is always positive and has no negative units. However, the Farad is a very large unit of measurement to use on its own so sub-multiples of the Farad is generally used such as micro-farads, nanofarads and pico-farads, for example.

Capacitance of a Parallel Plate Capacitor

The capacitance of a parallel plate capacitor is proportional to the area, A in metres2 of the smallest of the two plates and inversely proportional to the distance or separation, d (i.e. the dielectric thickness) given in metres between these two conductive plates.

The generalized equation for the capacitance of a parallel plate capacitor is given as: C = ε(A/d) whereε represents the absolute permittivity of the dielectric material being used. The permittivity of a vacuum, εo also known as the “permittivity of free space” has the value of the constant 8.84 x 10-12Farads per meter.

Generally, the conductive plates of a capacitor are separated by some kind of insulating material or gel rather than a perfect vacuum. When calculating the capacitance of a capacitor, we can consider the permittivity of air, and especially of dry air, as being the same value as a vacuum as they are very close.

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