If you’re considering a career in electronics, you’ll need to be familiar with the tools of the trade. Here are ten of the most essential components you’ll come across as an engineer:
Resistors are the most basic electronic component – a passive component, which restricts the amount of current delivered to a part of your circuit. These are useful for regulating current and voltage, enabling you to control how much of either is in any one part of your circuit.
Diodes are a type of semiconductor, which work like a one-way valve by allowing electrical current to flow in one direction, but not the other. They are particularly useful for protecting circuits from power surges, and if used in the correct combination can convert AC to DC as a bridge or half-wave rectifier. There are many types of diode, including LEDs – but a particularly useful type is the zener diode, which allows current to flow in reverse if a certain voltage is reached. This is perfect for regulating voltages in a circuit, as a shunt voltage regulator.
Capacitors are extremely useful passive components, often used to protect circuits by blocking DC current while allowing AC current to pass “through”. They also have useful applications in active and passive filtering, where they can be used to shunt different frequencies to ground, or in tandem with resistors and inductors to create resonance.
Inductors work in an inverse manner to capacitors, using a coil to generate an electromagnetic field which can block AC currents while allowing DC currents to pass through. Inductors are largely used for filtering purposes, but can also be found in larger power supply designs.
Potentiometers, or pots, are essentially variable resistors. These allow you to change the properties of a circuit by changing the voltage and current at certain junctures; they are also particularly useful for creating voltage dividers, allowing you to control other forms of circuitry.
Transistors, like diodes, are a semiconductor – but not purely because they only allow current to flow in one way. Most transistors work like a faucet, regulating a larger flow of electricity with a small input current or voltage. These are necessary for modern-day amplification circuits, as well as in-circuit switching and computation.
Batteries are an extremely common electrical component found in every home and every store across the nation. They hold a finite amount of electrical charge, often created chemically, and can supply a regular voltage across components without the need for an outlet. Batteries are useful for testing purposes, and for powering low-demand parts of complicated circuitry.
Transformers are ingenious pieces of kit, comprising two sets of wire meticulously and calculatedly wrapped around a ferrite core. Electricity passing through a transformer’s primary winding generates an electromagnetic field, which in turn generates electricity in the transformer’s second winding. The effect is a transformation of qualities in the electricity – the electricity passing through the primary winding might be high-current and low voltage, with the electricity leaving via the secondary winding high in voltage and low in current. These are often used in amplifiers to drive speaker units, or in power lines.
Switches are passive components which create and break connections in an electrical circuit. They come in many forms, shapes and sizes, each with different applications and use cases. They could be as simple as a light switch, or as complicated as a relay switching system responsible for switching multiple circuits.
Motors are components which convert electrical energy into mechanical energy, whether rotational or lateral. They do this by generating an electromagnetic field around the moving part, with the switching in polarity of that field causing physical movement.