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The goal of this lab is to examine electromagnetic oscillations in an alternating current (AC) circuit of the kind shown in Fig. 1. The circuit differs from that in the RC circuit experiment by including the extra component labeled L, a solenoid coil consisting of numerous turns of wire. When the switch is moved from position 1 to position 2, the charged capacitor discharges, but now the voltage across the capacitor does not simply decay to zero. Instead, it oscillates between positive and negative values with an amplitude that decreases as time passes, similar to the behavior of a pendulum. There is in fact a strong analogy between mechanical oscillations and electromagnetic oscillations. Physical characteristics of a mechanical oscillator (such as mass and friction) correspond to specific electromagnetic characteristics of the AC circuit studied here, the same equations that describe the oscillation of mechanical quantities also describe the oscillation of electromagnetic quantities, and many results apply equally for mechanical oscillators and electromagnetic oscillators. To explain the oscillatory behavior of the circuit in Fig. 1 and the close analogy between mechanical and electromagnetic oscillations, we first discuss Faradays law, inductors, and alternating current circuits.

1 2 S



Figure 1

RLC circuit

Figure 2 Time dependence of the voltage VC across the capacitor i n Fig. 1

Every electric current generates a magnetic field B . The magnetic field around the moving charge can be visualized in terms of magnetic lines of force. At each point, the direction of the straight line tangent to the magnetic line of force gives the direction of the magnetic field, in complete analogy to the electric lines of force.

Induction and Faradays law


Figure 3

Magnetic field lines near a solenoid

For example, the solenoid used in this experiment as an inductor (component L of Fig. 1) consists of a long insulated wire wound around a cylinder with a constant number of turns per unit length of the cylinder. The current I through the wire produces a magnetic field, as illustrated in Fig. 3.

To examine the role of the solenoid, consider more generally any area A enclosed by a closed path P in space, as illustrated in Fig. 4. Then with B(r) the magnetic field at each point in the region we can define the flux =


B da


as essentially the number of lines of the B field (or the amount of B field) passing through the area. If the lines of the magnetic field are perpendicular to the area A, then the flux is simply the product of the magnetic field times the area. The dimensions of the magnetic flux are Webers (or Wb) with 1 Wb = 1 Volt-second.

Michael Faraday in England, and Joseph Henry in the United States, independently discovered that a change in flux induces an electromotive force (emf), with B Area Henry making the discovery earlier but publishing it later than Faraday.

Specifically, a changing flux through the area enclosed by the path in Fig. 4 produces an emf around the closed
Figure 4 Magnetic flux through an area enclosed by a loop

path. The emf

is defined as the work

per unit test charge that the electric field would do on a small positive charge moved around the path P, and is equal in magnitude to the rate of change of the flux through the circuit, or = d . dt


The physical relation given by Eq. (2) is usually referred to in physics as Faradays law.1 The minus sign is required by Lenzs law, and indicates that the induced emf is always in a direction that would produce a current whose magnetic field opposes the change in flux. Suppose the loop defining the area A is made of copper wire with ohmic resistance R. The fact that an emf is induced in the loop means, according to Ohms law, that a current I = /R will flow through the loop. A coil of N turns with the same changing flux through each would be equivalent to N single loops in series, each with the same emf, thereby producing the emf = N d . dt


As the capacitor shown in Fig. 1 discharges, the current would simply decrease exponentially if the solenoid had no effect. But the decreasing current changes the flux through the solenoid, and thereby induces an emf acting on the solenoid itself (referred to

This should not be confused with Faradays law of electrolysis, a different result that chemistry textbooks often refer to simply as Faradays law.

as a back emf). By Lenzs law, the induced emf is in a direction that opposes the change in flux, so that it acts to keep the current from dropping to zero even up to the time when the capacitor is fully discharged and the voltage from the capacitor itself has reached zero. In analogy to the mass of the pendulum bob that causes it to swing past equilibrium to the opposite side, the back emf keeps the current flowing beyond the point where the charge on the capacitor reverses its sign. To examine this more quantitatively, note that for a coil of N turns of wire each with flux , the total flux N through the coil must be proportional to the current through the wire, so that N = LI . The proportionality constant in this relation is the inductance L given by L= N . I (4)


The inductance L is a characteristic property of the inductor determined by its geometry (its shape, size, number of windings, and arrangement of windings), just as the capacitance of a capacitor depends on the geometry of its plates and on whatever separates them from each other. The units of L are volt-second/ampere with 1 Vs/A = 1 Henry (with the symbol for Henry being H). Because Eq. (3) relates the flux through the circuit to the current at each instant of time, the time rate of change of the two sides of Eq. (4) must also be equal, and since the left side of the equation is the total flux linkage N, its rate of change is the induced emf , while the

rate of change of the right hand side is L times the rate at which the current changes at each instant. Therefore the back emf is equal to L multiplied by the rate of change of the current or, equivalently, by simply differentiating both sides of Eq. (3), N or = L dI . dt (7) dI d =L dt dt (6)

As a charge dQ flows through the circuit, it gains energy VdQ, where V = L dI/dt. Thus, the energy lost by the charge (which is the energy given to the inductor) is

Energy considerations

dQ dI dQ dI = L dI = LI dI . dU = VdQ = L dQ = l dt dt dt


If we start with zero current, and build up to a current I 0 , the energy stored in the inductor is U = LI dI = 1 LI 0 2 . 2
0 I0


This energy is stored in the form of the magnetic field B. When the switch S in Fig. 1 is in position 1, the capacitor becomes charged. Eventually the capacitor has the full voltage V across it and has energy 1 CV2 stored in its electric field 2 E between its plates. Once we set the switch to position 2 at t = 0, current flows through the inductor building up a magnetic field. As the voltage oscillates, the energy oscillates between being magnetic energy of the inductor and electric field energy of the capacitor. Some of the energy is lost to the environment as heat because of the ohmic resistance of the circuit, decreasing the maximum of the energy
2 1 2 CV

stored in the capacitor in each

successive cycle. The amplitude as measured by the maximum of the voltage VC across the capacitor therefore decreases from each cycle to the next. We next need to examine the precise time dependence of the voltage V(t) and of the current I(t) in a circuit such as that illustrated in Fig. 1. Although the circuit includes a capacitor, an inductor, and a resistor, the behavior of the circuit is determined by the total resistance R = R L +R C , total inductance L, and total capacitance C of the entire circuit, rather than the value for each component. Each component of the circuit contributes to these three physical aspects of the circuit; the resistor, for example, also has a slight capacitance and inductance. Since the resistance of the wires is fairly negligible, the resistance measured from one side of the capacitor to the other in Fig. 1 is seen to be R = R L + R C . The relation between voltage and current for these three elements are summarized in Table 1, together with the SI symbol and the expressions for the energy associated with each physical quantity.

Damped oscillations in an RLC circuit

Table 1 Symbols, voltages and energies for RLC circuit components

Symbol Resistor Inductor Capacitor Battery Pulse Generator R L C

Voltage VR V L = L dI/dt


UL = UC =

V C = Q/C V V(t)

1 2 2L I 1 2 2CV

In any closed circuit the sum of the voltages across the components must be zero, so that VL + VR + VC = 0 . Based on the expressions for the voltage differences in Table 1, Q dI + RI + = 0. C dt (10)


But I = dQ/dt, so therefore dQ Q d 2Q L 2 +R + = 0. dt C dt One possible solution to this equation is R t cos ' t Q(t ) = V0 C exp 2L with ' = 1 R 2 = 2 f . LC 2 L (14)



You can convince yourself that Eqs. (13) and (14) give the correct solution by substituting into Eq. (12).

The voltage across the capacitor will be

Q VC = = V0 e C R t 2L

cos ' t


The function V C is that shown in Fig. 5. It is the product of an oscillatory term cos t R t that damps the amplitude of the oscillation as the and an exponential function exp 2L





angular frequency and period T in Eq. (14) are related by

Figure 5


Q+ _ 2.

Figure 6 RLC circuit

2 Time dependence of Eq. (12). T The damping factor does not affect the period T of 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 the oscillatory term. The transfer of energy back and forth from the I capacitor to the inductor is illustrated in Fig. 6. In this figure the current I = dQ/dt is also plotted. At the time marked 1 in Fig. 6 all the energy is in E the electric field of the fully charged capacitor. A I B quarter cycle later at 2, the capacitor is discharged and nearly all this energy is 3. found in the magnetic field E of the coil. As the oscillation continues, the 4. I B circuit resistance converts electromagnetic energy into thermal energy and Voltage, current, and energy oscillations in an the amplitude decreases. ' = 2 f =

Experiment Observing damped oscillations in an RLC circuit

This experiment deals with a capacitor, a resistor, and an inductor connected in series on a printed circuit board (PC) as shown in Fig. 7. The set-up differs from that of Fig. 1 by including connections to the computer-based oscilloscope to monitor the time dependence of the input and capacitor voltages. Also, just as in the case of the RC circuit experiment, the switch in Fig. 1 is replaced by the square wave input from the pulser. If you have forgotten how to use the computer-based oscilloscope, it would be a good idea to read the section of the second lab write up in which its operation is described.

Experimental set-up

Printed circuit board

Pusler C L R


Computer-based Oscilloscope Coaxial cables

Figure 7

Experimental set-up

Table 2 below lists the units of the three main quantities characterizing the circuit.
SI unit ohm farad henry symbol F H in terms of other SI units = volt/ampere = V/A = coulomb/volt = C/V = volt-second/ampere = V s/A

Resistance Capacitance Inductance

[R] [C] [L]

Experimental procedure

Insert in the PC board of your setup:

(a) a 0.10 F capacitor. (It is marked .10 MF), (b) the large inductor, (c) the plug with the bypassing wire at the location of the resistor. Set the pulser at a frequency between 20 Hz and 200 Hz, with the output selected to rectangular pulses and the amplitude set to a few volts. Connect the pulser to the PC board (see Fig. 7). Observe the shape of the input pulses through one channel of the computer-based oscilloscope display, while simultaneously observing with the voltage V C across the capacitor with the other channel. As seen in Fig. 5 of the second lab, the braid of the coaxial cable you are using is connected to the ground of the BNC connector (the one that goes to the oscilloscope). One of the two ends of the dual banana plug (at the end of the cable going to PC board) must also be connected at ground potential to avoid short circuiting the signal across the capacitor C. Two small capacitors (mounted underneath the PC board) allow you to observe the AC signal across the capacitor, ignoring the DC level. The two signals that you observe on the oscilloscope are shown in Fig. 8.

V pulser

T pulser

Figure 8 Input and capacitor voltage in Experiment 1

Sketch in your lab notebook the voltage VC for a single damped oscillation that you observe with the oscilloscope. Indicate on this sketch, using small squares as markers, the points where the energy of the system is all in the electric field of the capacitor. Indicate with a circle where it is all in the form of magnetic energy. Use the oscilloscope to measure the period T of oscillation. It may be more accurate to measure the time of n periods, rather than just one. Calculate the angular frequency ' = 2 f = 2 . T

When the amplitude has dropped from V0 at t = 0 to Vn at time t = nT, then the relation
R ( nT ) 2L R t 2L

Vn = V0 e

= V0 e


holds. By taking the logarithm of both sides leads to ln Vn = ln V0 R (nT ) . 2L


The damping constant R/(2L) should then be given by the slope of the ln Vn vs. t plot. Take five or more data points and use the GA program to plot Eq. (17) and evaluate the damping constant R/2L from the slope. Be sure to include the standard deviation and the correct units in your stated result. Equation (14) gives the angular frequency of the oscillation. If the resistance R in the RLC circuit is zero (R = 0) it will resonate at the resonant frequency 0 = 1 . LC



You have measured from the period T together with the damping constant. As you can see from Eq. (14), if R / (2 L) >> then ' = 0 . Calculate L of your circuit, indicating the correct units. This is possible if the RLC system oscillates at a frequency close to the resonant frequency 0 = 1 / LC . Determine the inductance of the solenoid directly from the number of turns of wire indicated on it and from its physical dimensions. Compare it with the value of L from your data to confirm Eq. (18). (Note that this frequency depends only on the C and L of your circuit and has nothing to do with the frequency of your pulse generator.)

Calculate the resistance R of the circuit. You can do this using the measured values of the 2L damping factor and the inductance. R Compare the measured value of R with that determined from known resistances of parts of the circuit.


The following list of questions is intended to help you prepare for this laboratory session. If you have read and understood this write-up, you should be able to answer most of these questions. Some of these questions may be asked in the quiz preceding the lab. In terms of energy, when can a system oscillate?? In what forms can electromagnetic energy be stored? A battery stores electromagnetic energy. In which form? What is magnetic flux? What is Faradays law? Who first discovered it? What is the energy in an inductor in terms of quantities such as charge, current, voltage? What physical features determine the inductance of a solenoid? What physical quantity in an AC circuit plays the same role that frictional forces play in a mechanical oscillator? Why? What quantity has the same role in the mechanical oscillation of a pendulum that the inductance has for an RLC circuit? Why? For a swinging pendulum, what is the resonant frequency? Which of these circuits RC, RL, LC, RLC can produce oscillations? Explain.