MadSci Network: Physics

Re: What is a parallel circuit?

Date: Mon Feb 28 20:51:54 2000
Posted By: David Taylor, Staff, programming, Testronics
Area of science: Physics
ID: 950972502.Ph

What is a parallel circuit?

The word "circuit" comes from the Latin word for circle. When you run 
around the kitchen table, you run around a circuit. When you leave home in 
the morning, go to school and come home again, you have travelled a 
circuit. A circuit is a path that takes you back to where you started.

A parallel circuit is a group of separate paths that start and finish at 
the same place. If you leave home for school in the morning and your father 
leaves home for work, but you both return home in the evening, the two of 
you have travelled a parallel circuit.

You can observe a parallel circuit with water, a styrofoam cup, a pencil 
and a bowl.

Fill a styrofoam cup with water. Quickly pour it out. This is an example of 
static discharge. The water didn't return to the cup. To make a circuit, 
the water has to return to the cup.
You can feel a static discharge of electricity when you scuff your feet on 
the carpet and touch a doorknob.

Poke a small hole on one side of the bottom of the cup with the pencil. 
Fill the cup with water. Use the bowl to catch the water as it runs out of 
the cup. You can form a circuit by pouring the water in the bowl back into 
the cup. When you turn a flashlight on, the switch completes the electrical 
circuit. When you catch the water with the bowl and pour it back into the 
cup you are acting like the batteries in the flashlight and powering the 

Now, poke another small hole on the other side of the bottom of the cup. 
Fill the cup with water. Now the water comes out in two SEPARATE streams of 
water. Catch the water with in bowl and pour it back into the cup. You now 
have a parallel circuit. The water starts in the cup, takes two paths to 
the bowl and returns to the cup. When your parents turn on their car 
headlights, they are completing a parallel circuit. Electricity runs in 
separate paths from the car battery to each light and back to the battery.

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