Capacitor | Capacitor Theory | Electronics4you |


A capacitor (originally known as a condenser) is a passive two-terminal electrical component used to store energy electrostatically in an electric field. The forms of practical capacitors vary widely, but all contain at least two electrical conductors (plates) separated by a dielectric (i.e., insulator). The conductors can be thin films of metal, aluminum foil or disks, etc. The 'nonconducting' dielectric acts to increase the capacitor's charge capacity. A dielectric can be glass, ceramic, plastic film, air, paper, mica, etc. Capacitors are widely used as parts of electrical circuits in many common electrical devices. Unlike a resistor, a capacitor does not dissipate energy. Instead, a capacitor stores energy in the form of an electrostatic field between its plates.

Theory of operation

A capacitor consists of two conductors separated by a non-conductive region. The non-conductive region is called the dielectric. In simpler terms, the dielectric is just an electrical insulator. Examples of dielectric media are glass, air, paper, vacuum, and even a semiconductor depletion region chemically identical to the conductors. A capacitor is assumed to be self-contained and isolated, with no net electric charge and no influence from any external electric field. The conductors thus hold equal and opposite charges on their facing surfaces,and the dielectric develops an electric field. In SI units, a capacitance of one farad means that one coulomb of charge on each conductor causes a voltage of one volt across the device.

An ideal capacitor is wholly characterized by a constant capacitance C, defined as the ratio of charge ±Q on each conductor to the voltage V between them:


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