Electronics learning for hobbyists and students

Press the buttons below to close the switch (turn on) and open the switch (turn off) the circuit drawing.

Simple circuits introduction: Incandescent Lightbulb.

Simple circuit powering an incandescent light bulb diretly from a battery illustrative diagram by electronzap electronzapdotcom
Simple circuit powering an incandescent light bulb directly from a battery illustrative diagram by electronzap electronzapdotcom
Simple electric circuit block diagram
Simple electric circuit block diagram
  • Power supply: Provides voltage and current. Batteries use chemical energy, whereas generators move wires past magnets. Generators provide high voltage alternating current (AC) power to your house. Power supplies plug into that and convert it into the direct current (DC) typically used in electronics.
  • Load: Usually does something useful (emit light, turn a motor, creates sound, etc.) with the power (voltage and current) provided by the power supply. The load also always creates waste heat.
  • Conductors: Transfer voltage and allow current to move easily.
  • Insulators: Block almost all voltage and current.



Affiliate link ad of the portable power supply used in my videos. There are larger ones that are cheaper if portability isn’t important. I primarily got this one because I can easily film it next to my circuits while making my YouTube videos.

Physical appearance of commonly used through hole (wires sticking out) components:

Common resistor diode capacitor component appearances diagram by electronzap electronzapdotcom electronics
Common resistor diode capacitor component appearances diagram by electronzap electronzapdotcom electronics

Common Schematic symbols for components:

Basic schematic symbols of resistor diode LED battery ground push button and toggle switch diagram by electronzap electronzapdotcom
Basic schematic symbols of resistor diode LED battery ground push button and toggle switch diagram by electronzap electronzapdotcom

Symbols are used in schematic diagrams to represent physical components.

You simply connect the terminals where the lines connect.

It is still important to learn how the components work in order to modify and trouble shoot the physical circuit that you build. You will often have to substitute components you see on the schematic. You may not have the exact value component(s) shown, or you may need some changes to the circuit to obtain what you want.

Incandescent light bulb schematic symbols and simple circuit illustration diagram by electronzap
Incandescent light bulb schematic symbols and simple circuit illustration diagram by electronzap

Keep in mind that most practical electrical and electronics projects these days involves buying prebuilt, or easy to wire, systems. You can easily find tutorials where you can start using them right away by doing a Google/YouTube search of the topic(s). some examples are…

  • Solar panels.
  • Battery banks.
  • Inverters
  • Wires/Connectors.
  • Arduino: A kind of user programmable mini computer made to connect directly to circuits/modules.
  • Circuit modules.
    • Boost converter.
    • Buck converter.
    • Relay.
    • Sensor.
  • Audio
    •  Speakers.
    • Amplifiers.

Learning basic electronics will help you make better choices in your electronics purchases, and sooner or later, you will probably  want to build some things from scratch.

Basic Circuit: LED protected with a resistor.

You need to be familiar with basic circuits before you will be able to understand more complex circuits. Most people that are learning electronics, build temporary circuits on electronics breadboards. They have rows of slots that electrically connect wires and pins to each other.

9V battery with snap wires to power current limiting resistor with LED circuit on breadboard diagram by electronzap electronzapdotcom
9V battery with snap wires to power current limiting resistor with LED circuit on breadboard diagram by electronzap electronzapdotcom

Above is a drawing of an LED (Light Emitting Diode) protected by a series 470 ohm current limiting resistor from a 9V batter, which is providing the power (voltage and current).

  • Resistor protects all of the components of this circuit from overheating by limiting current.
  • LED and resistor are powered by a 9V battery.
  • Resistor power only produces waste heat.
  • LED power produces light, and some waste heat.
  • The components are all temporarily connected together on a prototype breadboard. The 9V battery snap, which provides the battery with wires connected to the battery terminals, usually has stranded wire (a bunch of tiny wires) which I twist into a spiral so that they will plug into the breadboard better. Stranded wire bends easier than a solid wire.
LED protected by a resistor electrical properties diagram by electronzap
LED protected by a resistor electrical properties diagram by electronzap

You will rarely see a drawing of a breadboard circuit. There’s a chance that you will see a pictorial like the one shown here. But, you will most likely see a schematic diagram of the circuit, where symbols are used to indicate physical components.

I added some important information to the schematic:

  • Supply/Battery voltage (usually shown on schematics).
  • Resistance value (usually shown on schematics).
  • Approximate voltage across the resistor and the LED if it has a 2 volt forward voltage (Not usually shown on schematics)
  • Circuit current, which is the same through all series components and connectors. May indicate an actual meter measuring current at that point. (Not usually shown on schematics).

Electrical properties to be aware of:

  • Voltage: Electric potential. Batteries and electrical outlets have voltage that you can use to power a suitable load.
  • Current: Moving charges/electrons flowing. Pushed by the voltage of a power source, and limited by a load.
  • Resistance: Opposition to current.
  • Semi conduction: Components that conduct more or less depending on voltages and/or currents involved, and which direction the voltage is applied (polarity).
  • Wattage: Work done, such as the heat that is generated. Calculating wattage (P) is done by taking the voltage (V) across a component times the current (I) through the component. P = V x I
  • Power loss and efficiency: Usually referred to when converting power (Input versus output), but can also refer to how much of the total power is being consumed as waste heat.

Primary goals when building/designing a circuit:

Whenever studying a new circuit, try to make sure you understand how every part of the circuit contributes to these 2 goals.

  • Don’t let any part of the circuit overheat (wattage).
  • Use components that provide the desired outcome.

Visualizing electric current:

Current runs equally through all series (connected end to end) components and the power supply. The current is pushed by the power supply voltage, and it’s rate of flow is limited by the components.

Never connect the power supply terminals directly to each other (short circuit) with metal or other low resistance material.

You can’t see electric current, you can only detect it’s effects. So, it helps to visualize it in a way similar to what is drawn below.

Imagining current flow illustrations for push button switch a resistor components diagram by electronzap
Imagining current flow illustrations for push button switch a resistor components diagram by electronzap
  • Mechanical switches are made so that they don’t conduct current while they are open/off (no metal on metal contact). But when they are closed/on (metal on metal contact), then they conduct freely.
  • Resistors provide a specific resistance (opposition to current flow) to a circuit. They come in a lot of values. When the same voltage is applied, lower value resistors conduct more current than higher value resistors do. Lower values resistors also produce more heat with the same voltage across them as a higher value resistor due to the higher current. Preventing too much heat in any circuit is always the top priority in electronics!

Reminder: Power (heat production for components) is the voltage across a component, times the current through the component. P = VI

Push button switch on a breadboard:

Push button switch on a breadboard basics learning electronics lesson 0005
Push button switch on a breadboard basics learning electronics lesson 0005
  • Common push button switches usually fit into breadboards reasonable well. A new breadboard will likely pop out push button switches once in a while. Wire leads may not fit in the slots as well after a pushbutton has been inserted into them, so I mostly devote those slots to pushbuttons.
  • The 2 pins at the top of the push button switch connect the 2 breadboard rows that they are plugged into. The bottom 2 rows also connect across the pushbutton switch pins.
  • Pressing the switch button until it clicks, to turn it on, connects the top 2 rows to the bottom 2 rows electrically (Illustrated in the diagram above). This is known as a normally open (NO) switch. There are also normally closed (NC) switches, but you will probably have to put more effort into finding them. I have not come across any NC pushbutton switches, but I have seen them being sold. Remember, open = on, and closed = off, in electronics.
  • High side switching is  when the switch is on the more positive side of the circuit than the load. That’s the most common position for the switch.
  • Low side switching is when the switch is on the more negative side of the circuit than the load. That is the less common position, but it is still an OK place to put the switch, if it is better for the circuit. Some people may be annoyed that you put a switch on the low side, especially if they don’t understand why. For example, some transistors (NPN BJTs) have to be on the low side when wired as a switch.

Current limiting resistor to protect LED basics diagram by electronzap electronzapdotcom
Current limiting resistor to protect LED basics diagram by electronzap electronzapdotcom

Current only flows through a diode (such as an LED), when the anode is more positive than the cathode by a small voltage. In the drawing above, the 3 horizontal lines next to the LED (light emitting diode) cathode is the schematic symbol for the 0 volt reference point ground. Usually just referred to as ground. That usually indicates the negative side of a battery or other single supply power source.

9V+ (or +9V) is being used to represent the positive terminal of a 9V battery.  There’s a 9V difference between +9V and ground (0V).

Breadboard power supply basics:


Affiliate link ad. I recommend getting multiple breadboard power supplies if you plan to use them. They can be damaged easily, but they don’t cost very much. There’s a link to the AC to DC adapter I bought a little bit further down the page. The breadboard power supply usually doesn’t come with an AC to DV adapter, even when it is part of a larger kit.

Breadboard power supply module illustrated by electronzap electronzapdotcom
Breadboard power supply module illustrated by electronzap electronzapdotcom

Breadboard power supplies have pins that plug into the breadboard supply rails. The supply has to be powered at the barrel jack, typically with a 9V AC to DC wall adapter.

Breadboards are used to quickly build, modify and study test circuits. Breadboards have a lot of slots for wires to be inserted into. Each row of slots is connected together electrically within the board. On both sides of the groove running down the middle, there are a bunch of rows of 5 slots across that are connected to each other. Then there’s 2 rows of slots connected all the way from top to bottom on both sides, which is intended for connecting the power supply to. I have seen videos though, where people were using a board where the supply rails were separated half way.


Adjustable AC to DC adapter I really like. An affiliate link ad.



I really like the kit above for a single purchase to learn basic electronics and Arduino. This is an affiliate link ad, so I earn from qualifying purchases.

Diode/LED polarity

Diode LED schematic symbols and forward reverse biased polarity basics illustrated by electronzap
Diode LED schematic symbols and forward reverse biased polarity basics illustrated by electronzap

Affiliate link ad.

  • LED must be inserted in the right direction to light up (forward biased). That is when the Anode (longer lead) is more positive, and the Cathode (shorter lead) is more negative, assuming that the Anode lead has not been trimmed. Leads (pronounced as “leeds”) are the metal wires coming out of any through hole component. The leads are what go through the holes of a circuit board, and then are soldered on the other side. Many LEDs also have a flat edge on the cathode side.
  • Rectifier diodes are what are used when you actually want to prevent current from flowing in the wrong direction. They conduct more easily (lower forward voltage) and can handle more current than LEDs. They also have a much higher reverse breakdown voltage than LEDs, which means that they can block a lot more voltage while reverse biased.

Rectifier and other types of diodes have a band painted on the cathode side of the component.

Minimum resistance to protect an LED from common low voltages

Some resistor and LED circuit current examples by electronzap
Some resistor and LED circuit current examples by electronzap

Until you are comfortable with calculating circuit current and resistor wattage, here are some good minimum value resistors to use to protect an LED from a given voltage. This assumes that  you are using 1/4W (quarter watt) resistors, which are by far the most commonly available wattage value.

      • 5V – 220Ω (two hundred twenty ohms)
      • 9V – 470Ω (four hundred seventy ohms)
      • 12V – 1000Ω (1k) (one thousand ohms/one kilohms)

Notice how I  suggest to use about 4 times the resistance to protect an LED from a little more than twice the voltage when comparing a 5V supply with a 12V power supply. Resistors get 4 times as hot when the voltage across them doubles. 2 times the voltage and 2 times the current = 4X the wattage.

Ohms law:

The relationship between voltage and current of a resistive component is known as Ohms law. The 3 main formulas for doing Ohms law calculations are

  • I = V/R
  • R= V/I
  • V = IR

Examples:

      • 5V/220Ω = 0.022727…A (which is rounded off to 23mA)
      • 12V/1000Ω (same as 1k) = 0.012A (same as 12mA)
Current through a resistor illustrated and schematic with calculations diagram by electronzap
Current through a resistor illustrated and schematic with calculations diagram by electronzap

Current through a resistor and a series LED that drops 2V:

      • 3V/220 = 0.013636… (14mA)
      • 10V/1,000Ω = 0.01A (10mA)

Protective resistor must have high enough resistance to limit current below 20mA for most indicator LEDs.  At higher voltages, current will need to stay well below 0.02A (20mA) to prevent the resistor from overheating.

LED protected by a resistor circuit voltage resistance and current ohms law calculations diagram by electronzap
LED protected by a resistor circuit voltage resistance and current ohms law calculations diagram by electronzap

Using Ohms law for calculating current and multimeter measurements learning electronics lesson 0003

Most resistors are rated to dissipate a maximum of 1/4W (0.25W) of power. However, it is still recommended to stay below 1/8W (0.125W). Other wattage resistors are fairly easy to find. They should also be kept below half of whatever their maximum wattage rating is.

To calculate wattage, take the voltage (in volts) across a components, and multiply it by the current through it (in amps). W = V x I

Wattage and power calculations for resistive components learning electronics lesson 0004

Battery basics:

Batteries are a cheaper and more portable voltage source than a plug in power supply, but they need to either be replaced often, or recharged if rechargeable.

Battery cell voltage basics for alkaline and rechargeable lithium ion chemistries diagram by electronzap
Battery cell voltage basics for alkaline and rechargeable lithium ion chemistries diagram by electronzap

A cell contains the chemistry needed to provide a voltage. The nominal voltage will depend on the chemistry involved.

Nominal voltage is close to the average voltage that you can expect when a cell goes from fully charged (highest voltage possible) to fully discharged (lowest practical voltage).

      • Alkaline has a nominal cell voltage of 1.5V. The actual voltage ends up being about 1.6V while brand new (they  aren’t usually rechargeable), and somewhere close to 1V when fully discharged.
      • Lithium ion (li ion) cells usually have a nominal voltage of 3.6V, which ends up being 4.2V when fully charged and 3V when fully discharged. Always stay within that voltage range and below it’s maximum current to prevent damage.
      • Series cells: Cells must be at the same voltage and capacity (mAh) Connecting cells end to end (positive of one cell to negative of another cell) adds up the voltage of each cell when measured from the 2 far ends.
      • Parallel cells: Cells must be at the same voltage when connected. Connecting the positive side of a number of cells together while also attaching their negative side together adds up how much total current can be provided to a load. Make sure the batteries are at the same voltage (no more than about 0.1V difference) before connecting in parallel.

Battery holders, which connect the cells in series or parallel for you when you insert them in the proper direction, are common.

A 9V alkaline battery has the chemistry of six 1.5V cells connected in series contained in one package.

BEWARE that a”9 volt” lithium ion rechargeable batteries can only be charged to 8.4V. That is because they are made up of two series 3.6V cells (4.2V cells when fully charged).  I prefer to call them almost 9V batteries. 4.2V + 4.2V = 8.4V

Always use a proper battery charger for the chemistry involved, unless you have learned how to charge that chemistry safely.



Really nice looking resistor kit for those beginning studying electronics. Affiliate link ad.


Nice assortments of semiconductors. Amazon affiliate link ad.

 

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