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Diagramming Electric Circuits

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The Circuit Alphabet

How does a knowledge of circuit diagramming help electrical engineers with their work?

Credit: Lyn Lomasi
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lynlomasi/7957003396/sizes/o/in/photolist-d88HTJ-9o9qyC-d88GFC-9BH3Ex-ctaCWU-9kFBoJ-9U4MnE-dgCVUn-aXDaji-8iCtLv-a1Wa8h-brwsTp-8uUUvm-aAN8qe-9mhd86-8xAu1a-d1HpVS-9VWKSk-93yTBU-83DBrZ-efN2YC-93uC2X-9BENde-apmkeL-9AqoPX-8s9Qgj-9AWtSP-88euwL-dYsmSQ-d88KNU-d88Lq5-d88Hhm-d88K8U-d88Juf-aSRbK4-bTgxpr-7Nyd36-aZwcXe-aZwcYD-aZwcLM-aZwcSx-aZwcUr-aZwcJi-edBfNd-8wRj3N-cigQb7-ai7pAx-aaHDon-9eaJnr-bibPeZ-7ydD94/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

[Figure1]

Think back to when you learned how to write. You were taught the letters of the alphabet, which combine to form messages, as well as punctuation, which forms the foundation of sentences.

Similarly, basic circuit diagrams have their own “alphabet,” which consists of symbol forms of voltage sources, resistors, and other components. These components come together to not only form a working circuit, but also convey messages about the circuit, such as whether it has a high resistance or a low one. The parts of a circuit diagram are linked by wire lines, which determine whether a circuit is in series or parallel, for instance.   

Credit: PEO, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/acwa/8677773473/sizes/o/in/photolist-edPRJ2-bBdxqv-edPRCT-eRn8rH-dNXJeK-e6YkST-9Vbhyc-ejGhvt-ejG9hn-bY3wZJ-diuL7h-da7khW-eq8Jhe-drUXeC-drGBcH-cNvtoJ-drUXam-bWc8DA-dps4so-eDUft1-eDMU2Z-e899P9-ecnstw-dkKgHe-cmGDvw-daovkH-9PaafG-9P7j2c-e1zgng-cs25LE-edPRMK-9kana1-eq8Kri-dSZS5P-cdPJ9h-e1z7Hv-9cS1uA-bWsm7D-d9QM87-c8eAtW-8MKayQ-9k6Ujv-7NGRmP-dxruRz-dyJhoX-dxruKM-bScTTP-cyXgu7-ehk5kc-eeoYgY-eep3K1/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

[Figure2]

Circuit diagrams are especially useful to electrical engineers, who want an easy way to plan out and communicate about circuit systems, such as in homes or office buildings.

Creative Applications

  1. Draw a circuit with a total resistance of 10 Ω (ohms), total voltage of 20 V (volts), and total current of 2 A (amperes). You must use more than one resistor.
  2. Draw a circuit with a total resistance of 5 Ω, total voltage of 15 V, and total current of 3 A. It must be drawn in combined series-parallel form.
  3. Think of some other professionals who might use circuit diagramming. How might their diagrams differ from those of regular electrical engineers? (Hint: computers)

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