Capacitance

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In electromagnetism and electronics, capacitance is the ability of a body to hold an electrical charge. Capacitance is also a measure of the amount of electrical energy stored (or separated) for a given electric potential. A common form of energy storage device is a parallel-plate capacitor. In a parallel plate capacitor, capacitance is directly proportional to the surface area of the conductor plates and inversely proportional to the separation distance between the plates. If the charges on the plates are +Q and −Q, and V gives the voltage between the plates, then the capacitance is given by

The SI unit of capacitance is the farad; 1 farad is 1 coulomb per volt.

The energy (measured in joules) stored in a capacitor is equal to the work done to charge it. Consider a capacitance C, holding a charge +q on one plate and −q on the other. Moving a small element of charge dq from one plate to the other against the potential difference V = q/C requires the work dW:

where W is the work measured in joules, q is the charge measured in coulombs and C is the capacitance, measured in farads.

The energy stored in a capacitance is found by integrating this equation. Starting with an uncharged capacitance (q = 0) and moving charge from one plate to the other until the plates have charge +Q and −Q requires the work W:

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Capacitors

The capacitance of the majority of capacitors used in electronic circuits is several orders of magnitude smaller than the farad. The most common subunits of capacitance in use today are the millifarad (mF), microfarad (µF), nanofarad (nF) and picofarad (pF).

The capacitance can be calculated if the geometry of the conductors and the dielectric properties of the insulator between the conductors are known. For example, the capacitance of a parallel-plate capacitor constructed of two parallel plates both of area A separated by a distance d is approximately equal to the following:

where

Capacitance is proportional to the area of overlap and inversely proportional to the separation between conducting sheets. The closer the sheets are to each other, the greater the capacitance. The equation is a good approximation if d is small compared to the other dimensions of the plates so the field in the capacitor over most of its area is uniform, and the so-called fringing field around the periphery provides a small contribution. In CGS units the equation has the form:[1]