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5.71: Electric Circuits

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Jose made this sketch of a battery and light bulb for science class. If this were a real set up, the light bulb wouldn’t work. The problem is the loose wire on the left. It must be connected to the positive terminal of the battery in order for the bulb to light up.

Q: Why does the light bulb need to be connected to both battery terminals?

A: Electric current can flow through a wire only if it forms a closed loop. Charges must have an unbroken path to follow between the positively and negatively charged parts of the voltage source, in this case, the battery.

Electric Circuit Basics

A closed loop through which current can flow is called an electric circuit. In homes in the U.S., most electric circuits have a voltage of 120 volts. The amount of current (amps) a circuit carries depends on the number and power of electrical devices connected to the circuit. Home circuits generally have a safe upper limit of about 20 or 30 amps.

Parts of an Electric Circuit

All electric circuits have at least two parts: a voltage source and a conductor. They may have other parts as well, such as light bulbs and switches, as in the simple circuit seen in the Figure below. To see an animation of a circuit like this one, go to: http://www.rkm.com.au/animations/animation-electrical-circuit.html

  • The voltage source of this simple circuit is a battery. In a home circuit, the source of voltage is an electric power plant, which may supply electric current to many homes and businesses in a community or even to many communities.
  • The conductor in most circuits consists of one or more wires. The conductor must form a closed loop from the source of voltage and back again. In the circuit above, the wires are connected to both terminals of the battery, so they form a closed loop.
  • Most circuits have devices such as light bulbs that convert electrical energy to other forms of energy. In the case of a light bulb, electrical energy is converted to light and thermal energy.
  • Many circuits have switches to control the flow of current. When the switch is turned on, the circuit is closed and current can flow through it. When the switch is turned off, the circuit is open and current cannot flow through it.

Circuit Diagrams

When a contractor builds a new home, she uses a set of plans called blueprints that show her how to build the house. The blueprints include circuit diagrams. The diagrams show how the wiring and other electrical components are to be installed in order to supply current to appliances, lights, and other electric devices. You can see an example of a very simple circuit in the Figure below. Different parts of the circuit are represented by standard circuit symbols. An ammeter measures the flow of current through the circuit, and a voltmeter measures the voltage. A resistor is any device that converts some of the electricity to other forms of energy. For example, a resistor might be a light bulb or doorbell.

The circuit diagram on the right represents the circuit drawing on the left. Below are some of the standard symbols used in circuit diagrams.

Q: Only one of the circuit symbols above must be included in every circuit. Which symbol is it?

A: The battery symbol (or a symbol for some other voltage source) must be included in every circuit. Without a source of voltage, there is no electric current.


  • An electric circuit is a closed loop through which current can flow.
  • All electric circuits must have a voltage source, such as a battery, and a conductor, which is usually wire. They may have one or more electric devices as well.
  • An electric circuit can be represented by a circuit diagram, which uses standard symbols to represent the parts of the circuit.


  • electric circuit: Closed loop through which current can flow.


Take the electric circuit quiz at the following URL. Be sure to have your answers corrected. Try the quiz again if any of your answers are incorrect. http://www.myschoolhouse.com/courses/O/1/68.asp


  1. What is an electric circuit?
  2. Which two parts must all electric circuits contain?
  3. Sketch a simple circuit that includes a battery, switch, and light bulb. Then make a circuit diagram to represent your circuit, using standard circuit symbols.

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electric circuit Closed loop through which current can flow.

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Difficulty Level:
At Grade
7 , 8
Date Created:
Nov 01, 2012
Last Modified:
Sep 13, 2016
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