Electric circuits use electric power to perform some function, like energize a heating or lighting element, turn a motor, or create an electromagnetic filed. Electronic circuits differ from electric circuits in that they use devices that can themselves be controlled by other electric signals. Restated, electronic circuits are built from devices that use electricity to control electricity. Most electronic circuits use signals that are within 5 to 10 volts of ground; most circuits built within the past several years use signals that are within 3 to 5 volts from ground. Some electronic circuits represent information encoded as continuous voltage levels that can wander between the high and low voltage supply rails – these are called analog circuits. As an example, a sound pressure level transducer (i.e. a microphone) might drive a signal between 0V and 3.3V in direct proportion to the detected sound pressure level. In this case, the voltage signal output from the microphone is said to be an analog ifthe sound pressure wave itself. Other circuits use only two distinct voltage levels to represent information. Most often, these two voltage levels use the same voltages supplied by the power rails. In these circuits, called digital circuits, all information must be represented as binary numbers, with a signal at 0V (or ground) representing one kind of information, and a signal at 3.3V (or whatever the upper voltage supply rail provides) representing the other kind of information. In this series of modules, we will confine our discussions to digital circuits.
In the hydrodynamic analogy of electronic circuits, resistors are equivalent to a pipe. As fluid flows through a pipe, frictional drag forces at the walls dissipate energy from the flow and thus reducing the pressure, or equivalently, the potential energy of the fluid in the pipe. A small resistor is equivalent to a large diameter pipe that will allow for a high flow rate, whereas a large resistor is equivalent to a small diameter pipe that greatly constricts the flow rate.
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