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PHYS 2300 – Capacitor Lab

RC Circuits

Construct the circuit above. Use a mylar capacitor. Drive the circuit with a 500 Hz
square wave, and look at the output (be sure to use the scope’s DC input

Measure the time constant by determining the time for the output to drop to 37%.
Doe it equal the product RC?

SUGGESTION: some scopes have percent markings on the left edge of the
scope’s display. These are perfect for this type of measurement. Just place the
foot of the square wave on the 0%, the top at 100%. Then crank up the sweep
rate so that you use most of the screen for the fall from 100% to 37%.

Measure the time to climb from 0% to 63%. Is it the same as the time to fall to
37%? (If not, something is amiss in your way of taking these measurements)

Try varying the frequency of the square wave.


Construct the RC differentiator shown above. Drive it with a square wave at

100kHz. Does the output make sense?

Try a sine wave.

Input Impedance

Here’s your first chance to try getting used to quick worst-case impedance
calculations, rather than exact and frequency-dependent calculations (which are
often useless).

What is the impedance presented to the signal generator by the circuit (assume
no load at the circuit’s output) at f = 0?

At f = infinity?

Questions like these become important when the signal source is less ideal than
the function generators you are using.


Construct the integrator shown above. Drive it with a 100 kHz square wave at
maximum output level.

What is the input impedance at DC? At infinite frequency?

Drive it with a triangle wave, what is the output waveform called? (Doesn’t this
circuit seem clever? It seems to remember calculus better than all of us and can
certainly do it quicker.)

To expose this as only an approximate or conditional integrator, try dropping the

input frequency. Are we violating the condition (see The Art of Electronics, 1.15)

Vout << Vin ?

The differentiator is similarly approximate, and fails unless (see The Art of
Electronics, 1.14)

dVout/dt << dVin/dt

In a differentiator, RC too large tends to violate this restriction. If your are extra
zealous, you may want to look again at the differentiator above, but this time
increasing RC by a factor of, say 1000. The “derivative” of the square wave gets
ugly, and this will not surprise you. The derivative of the triangle wave looks odd
is an less obvious way.

When we meet operational amplifiers later in the course, we will see how to
make “perfect” differentiators and integrators – those that let us lift the restrictions
we have imposed on these RC versions.

Low-Pass Filter

Construct the low-pass filter shown above.

ASIDE: “Integrator” vs. “Low-pass Filter”

“Wait a minute!,” you may be protesting, “didn’t I just build this circuit?” Yes, you
did. Then why do it again? It is expected that you will gradually divine the answer
to that question as you work your way through this experiment. One of the two
experiments might be called a special case of the other. Can you determine
which is which?

What do you calculate the filters -3dB frequency to be?

Drive the circuit with a sine wave, sweeping over a large frequency range, to
observe its low-pass property (1 kHz and 10 kHz ranges should be most useful).

Find f-3dB experimentally: measure the frequency at which the filter attenuates by
3dB (vout down to 70.7% of full amplitude).

NOTE: We will like refer to “the 3dB point” and “f3dB”, and not the minus 3dB point
of f-3dB. It can be understandably confusing but it is conventional.

High-Pass Filter

Construct a high-pass filter with the components that you used for the low-pass
filter. Where is the circuits 3dB point?

Check out how the circuit treats sine waves.

Check to see if the output amplitude at low frequencies (well below the 3dB
point) is proportional to frequency.

Filter Application I: Garbage Detector

The circuit above will let you see the “garbage” on the 110-volt power line. First
look at the output of the transformer at A. It should look more or less like a
classical sine wave. (The transformer, incidentally, serves two purposes. It
reduces the 110VAC to a more reasonable 6.3V and it “isolates” the circuit we’re
working on from the potentially lethal power line voltage.)

To see glitches and wiggles, look at B, the output of the high-pass filter. All kinds
of interesting stuff should appear, some of it curiously time-dependent.

What is the filter’s attenuation at 60Hz? (No complex math necessary. Hint, count
octaves, or use the fact, which you confirmed above, that amplitude grows
linearly with frequency, well below f3dB.)

Filter Application II: Selecting signal from signal plus noise

Now we will try using high-pass and then low-pass filters to prefer one frequency
range or other is a composite signal, formed as shown in the circuit above. The
transformer adds the large 60 Hz sine wave to the output of the function

Run this composite signal through the high-pass filter shown below.

Look at the resulting signal. Calculate the filter’s 3dB point.

Is the attenuation of the 60 Hz waveform about what you would expect? Note
that this time the 60 Hz is considered the “noise”. (In fact, you will gather in time
that this is the most common and troublesome source of noise in the lab.)

Now run the composite signal through the low-pass filter shown below instead of
the high-pass.

Look at the resulting signal. Calculate this circuit’s 3dB point. Why were the 3dB
frequencies chosen where they were?