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CAPACITOR - a device that stores electric potential energy and electric charge
- any two conductors separated by an insulator
- initially, each conductor has zero net charge
- when the capacitor is charged, the two conductors have charges
with equal magnitude and opposite sign
- the net charge remains zero at this case

Figure 1: Capacitor in a circuit diagram

CAPACITANCE, C - the ratio of charge to potential difference

- a measure of the ability of a capacitor to store energy

C= (1)
SI Unit: one farad (1 F); in honor of Michael Faraday

1 F = 1 C/V

Parallel-plate capacitor - the simplest form of capacitor which consists of two parallel conducting
plates with area A and separated by a distance d that is relatively small compared to their dimensions

The capacitance C of such capacitor in vacuum is given by,

C = 0 (2)
From equation 2, we can say that 1 F = 1 C2 /J. Also, the units of 0 can be expressed as,

1 C2 /N·m = 1 F/m; 8.85×10−12 C2 /N·m = 8.85×10−12 F/m

NOTE: The capacitance C for ANY capacitor in vacuum only depends on the shapes, dimensions,
and separation of the conductors. Equation 2 only holds for parallel-plate capacitors. If the shape of
the capacitor is more complex than the abovementioned, the expression for C is more complicated
than equation 2.


1. (a) The parallel plates of a 5.0-F capacitor are 1.0 mm apart. What is their area? (b) What is
the capacitance of a parallel-plate capacitor whose plates has an area of 10 cm2 and a separation
of 1.0 mm?

2. The plates of a parallel-plate capacitor in vacuum are 3.00 mm apart and 3.00 m2 in area. A
potential difference of 3.00 MV is applied. (a) Compute the capacitance. (b) Compute the
charge on each plate. (c) Compute the magnitude of the electric field between the plates.

3. Find the capacitance of a spherical capacitor made up of two concentric spherical conducting
shells separated by vacuum. The inner shell has charge +Q and outer radius ra and the outer
shell has charge −Q and inner radius rb .

4. (a) Find the capacitance of a cylindrical capacitor made up of two coaxial cylindrical conductors
of length L separated by vacuum. The inner cylinder has radius ra and linear charge density
+λ while the outer cylinder has inner radius rb and linear charge density −λ. (b) Find the
capacitance per unit length.

Capacitors in Series and Parallel Connections/Circuits

Capacitors in Series

Figure 2 shows a schematic diagram of a series connection/circuit.

Figure 2: Three capacitors in series

NOTE: In a series connection, the magnitude of charge on all plates is the same.

We can say that for any number of capacitors in series,

1 1 1 1
= + + + ... (3)
Ceq C1 C2 C3

Capacitors in Parallel

Figure 3 shows a schematic diagram of a parallel connection/circuit.

Figure 3: Three capacitors in parallel

NOTE: In a parallel connection, the potential difference for all individual capacitors is the same.

We can say that for any number of capacitors in parallel,

Ceq = C1 + C2 + C3 + . . . (4)

REMEMBER! In a series connection, Ceq is always less than any C while in a parallel connec-
tion, Ceq is always greater than any C.

1. In figures 2 and 3, let C1 = 8.0 µF, C2 = 4.0 µF, C3 = 2.0 µF, and Vab = V = 18 V. Find
the equivalent capacitance Ceq , the charge Q, and the potential difference V for each capacitor
when the capacitors are connected in (a) series (Figure 2) and in (b) parallel (Figure 3).


Dielectrics - nonconducting materials between the conducting plates of a capacitor

The capacitance of a parallel-plate capacitor with a dielectric between the plates is given by,
C = KC0 = K0 = (5)
d d
where K = dielectric constant, C0 = original capacitance (capacitance with vacuum between the
plates), and  = K0 .

Table 1: Some values of dielectric constant K at 20◦ C
Material K
Vacuum 1
Air 1.00059
Benzene 2.28
Glass 5-10
Neoprene 6.70
Germanium 16
Strontium titanate 310

1. The plates of a parallel-plate capacitor are 2.50 mm apart, and each carries a charge of magni-
tude 80.0 nC. The plates are in vacuum. The electric field between the plates has a magnitude
of 4.006 V/m. (a) What is the potential difference between the plates? (b) What is the area
of each plate? (c) What is the capacitance?
2. Find the equivalent capacitance of the seven-capacitor network shown in figure 4.

Figure 4: A network of capacitors

Prepared using LATEXby:

Allen Neil C. Garcia
Instructor I