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Series Parallel Circuits


Circuits consisting of just one battery and one load resistance are very simple to analyze, but they are not often found in practical applications. Usually, we find circuits where more than two components are connected together.

There are two basic ways in which to connect more than two circuit components: series and parallel. First, an example of a series circuit:

Here, we have three resistors (labeled R1, R2, and R3), connected in a long chain from one terminal of the battery to the other. (It should be noted that the subscript labeling -- those little numbers to the lower-right of the letter "R" -- are unrelated to the resistor values in ohms. They serve only to identify one resistor from another.) The defining characteristic of a series circuit is that there is only one path for electrons to flow. In this circuit the electrons flow in a counter-clockwise direction, from point 4 to point 3 to point 2 to point 1 and back around to 4.

Now, let's look at the other type of circuit, a parallel configuration:

Again, we have three resistors, but this time they form more than one continuous path for electrons to flow. There's one path from 8 to 7 to 2 to 1 and back to 8 again. There's another from 8 to 7 to 6 to 3 to 2 to 1 and back to 8 again. And then there's a third path from 8 to 7 to 6 to 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1 and back to 8 again. Each individual path (through R1, R2, and R3) is called a branch



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