A digital circuit requires a power supply to provide a constant and stable source of electric power to all devices. As discussed above, electric power is derived from the basic electrical forces that charged particles (e.g., protons and electrons) exert on one another – namely, electrons are repelled by other electrons, and attracted to more electrically positive areas where there are relatively fewer electrons. The vast majority of charged particles are found in ordinary matter bound in electrically neutral atomic structures (that is, most particles are found in structures that have an equal number of positive and negative particles). Some electrically neutral conducting materials (like metals) contain electrons that are not so tightly bound to their host atoms. If a voltage source is applied to these materials, the lightly bound electrons will move away from the concentrated source of electrons on the negative side of the supply towards the electrically positive side of the supply. A “power supply” in a digital circuit provides a local, contained imbalance of electrons that provides a voltage source that can do useful work, such as transmitting information through a conductor from one device to another. A digital circuit allows a controlled flow of electrons from of the negative to positive side of the power supply, but only via the paths designed into the circuit. As electrons flow to and from the devices in a given circuit, they can change device properties in useful ways.
Electronic components are often assembled and interconnected on a flat surface known as a circuit board. The several types of existing circuit boards may be divided into two broad categories: those intended for prototype or experimental circuits; and those intended for production and/or commercial sale. Circuit boards used for experimental work are often referred to as breadboards or protoboards. Breadboards allow engineers to construct circuits quickly, so that they can be studied and modified until an optimal design is discovered. In a typical breadboard use, components and wires are added to a circuit in an ad hoc manner as the design proceeds, with new data and new understanding dictating the course of the design. Since breadboard circuits exist only in the laboratory, no special consideration need be given to creating reliable or simple-to-manufacture circuits – the designer can focus exclusively on the circuits behavior. In contrast, circuit boards intended for production or commercial sale must have highly reliable wires and interconnects, permanent bonds to all components, and topographies amenable to mass production and thorough testing. And further, they must be made of a material that is reliable, low-cost, and easy to manufacture. A fiberglass substratewith copper wires (etched from laminated copper sheets) has been the PCB material of choice for the past several decades. The Digilent board is a simple example of such a board. Note that most often, production circuit board designs are finalized only after extensive breadboard phases. Components are permanently affixed to production boards using the soldering process.
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