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Electrical engineer James Lewis stops by to share his insights on the surprisingly complex world of capacitors.
- Carmen introduces the show as covering “passives.” This refers to passive electrical devices that have no control over voltage, current, or signal gain.
- Our guest for this episode is electrical engineer James Lewis, a Marketing Director for capacitor manufacturing firm KEMET.
- Jeff notes a series of articles on the Dangerous Prototypes website titled “Passives Aren’t Really So Passive.”
- Brian references using “NPO” capacitors, which refers to a highly stable form of ceramic capacitor.
- James got interested in electronics during high school, when he discovered he could overclock his TI-85 calculator by swapping out a capacitor.
- Apparently Carmen spent too many hours playing Block Dude on his calculator during his high school days.
- Our guest became a field application engineer (FAE) upon graduating from college.
- According to James, a deep knowledge of materials and chemical processes is crucial for developing and manufacturing capacitors.
- There are five typical uses for capacitors:
- Decoupling: Removing noise (or alternating current elements) from a fixed voltage signal signal.
- Filtering: Removing unwanted signal frequencies.
- Wave Shaping: Using a capacitor’s charging and discharging characteristics to create desired waveforms.
- Coupling: Allowing desired frequency elements to pass from one circuit stage to the next.
- Oscillation: Creating a sinusoidal waveform of a desired frequency.
- For a long time, it was widely claimed that everyone should drink 8 glasses of water a day. Now, that viewpoint is much less prevalent.
- Carmen, Jeff and Brian have distinctly different viewpoints about how a capacitor works.
- A range of materials and construction methods can be used to create capacitors with differing performance characteristics:
- Ceramic capacitors are thermally stable and provide precise capacitive values.
- Electrolytic capacitors (either aluminum or tantalum) are good for storing a large amount of charge.
- Film capacitors can handle voltages in excess of 500 volts.
- Although ideal capacitors theoretically exhibit no resistance or inductance, real-world capacitors are subject to equivalent series resistance (ESR) and equivalent series inductance (ESL).
- KEMET has a tool called K-Sim which allows designers to view how capacitor parameters vary with frequency, voltage, and temperature.
- When he was working as an FAE, James encountered problems with counterfeit capacitors at least once a month.
- Under the heading of “Why did they do that?”, the electronics industry marks the negative lead (cathode) of aluminum electrolytic capacitors, and the positive lead (anode) of tantalum electrolytic capacitors.
- Supercapacitors bridge the gap between capacitors and batteries.
- While James is sure graphene will lead to better capacitors, he still waiting for its breakthrough application.
- EEStor is a company claiming significant advances in capacitor charge density and operating voltages.
- James mentions the KEMET Engineering Center and KEMET Institute of Technology (KIT) as resources for engineers wanting to learn more about capacitors.
- A more technically in-depth interview with James about capacitor performance can be found on Episode 25 of the Spark Gap podcast.
- James publishes instructional videos about electronics on his AddOhms YouTube channel.
- Listeners can delve into our guest’s writings on his Bald Engineer blog.
- James can be found on Twitter as @baldengineer.
Thanks to Kiran Foster for the photo titled “capacitor.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.