In October 1745, Ewald Georg von Kleist of Pomerania in Germany found that charge could be stored by connecting a high voltage electrostatic generator by a wire to a volume of water in a hand-held glass jar. Von Kleist's hand and the water acted as conductors and the jar as a dielectric (although details of the mechanism were incorrectly identified at the time). Von Kleist found, afterremoving the generator, that touching the wire resulted in a painful spark. In a letter describing the experiment, he said "I would not take a second shock for the kingdom of France." The following year, the Dutch physicist Pieter van Musschenbroek invented a similar capacitor, which was named the Leyden jar, after the University of Leiden where he worked.
Daniel Gralath was the first to combineseveral jars in parallel into a "battery" to increase the charge storage capacity. Benjamin Franklin investigated the Leyden jar and "proved" that the charge was stored on the glass, not in the water as others had assumed. He also adopted the term "battery", (denoting the increasing of power with a row of similar units as in a battery of cannon), subsequently applied to clusters ofelectrochemical cells. Leyden jars were later made by coating the inside and outside of jars with metal foil, leaving a space at the mouth to prevent arcing between the foils. The earliest unit of capacitance was the 'jar', equivalent to about 1 nanofarad.
Leyden jars or more powerful devices employing flat glass plates alternating with foil conductors were usedexclusively up until about 1900, when the invention of wireless (radio) created a demand for standard capacitors, and the steady move to higher frequencies required capacitors with lower inductance. A more compact construction began to be used of a flexible dielectric sheet such as oiled paper sandwiched between sheets of metal foil, rolled or folded into a small package.
Early capacitors were alsoknown as condensers, a term that is still occasionally used today. The term was first used for this purpose by Alessandro Volta in 1782, with reference to the device's ability to store a higher density of electric charge than a normal isolated conductor.
Theory of operation
Main article: Capacitance
Charge separation in a parallel-plate capacitor causes an internal electric field. Adielectric (orange) reduces the field and increases the capacitance.
A simple demonstration of a parallel-plate capacitor
A capacitor consists of two conductors separated by a non-conductive region called the dielectric medium though it may be a vacuum or a semiconductor depletion region chemically identical to the conductors. A capacitor is assumed to be self-contained and isolated, with no netelectric charge and no influence from any external electric field. The conductors thus hold equal and opposite charges on their facing surfaces, and the dielectric develops an electric field. In SI units, a capacitance of one farad means that one coulomb of charge on each conductor causes a voltage of one volt across the device.
The capacitor is a reasonably general model for electric fieldswithin electric circuits. An ideal capacitor is wholly characterized by a constant capacitance C, defined as the ratio of charge ±Q on each conductor to the voltage V between them:
Sometimes charge build-up affects the capacitor mechanically, causing its capacitance to vary. In this case, capacitance is defined in terms of incremental changes:
Work must be done by anexternal influence to "move" charge between the conductors in a capacitor. When the external influence is removed the charge separation persists in the electric field and energy is stored to be released when the charge is allowed to return to its equilibrium position. The work done in establishing the electric field, and hence the amount of energy stored, is given by:
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