Essential Ideas in Electronics: Voltage (Part 1)

Like many essential ideas in electronics, voltage is a slippery customer; it’s easy to think you have a grip on it only to find that, when you think a bit harder about it, you don’t after all. However all is not lost; you can do a lot of useful things in electronics without holding a fully formed theory of voltage. And as your experience with electronics develops you can allow your understanding of voltage to develop at the same time (along with other essential concepts that will follow in later articles).

So, this pair of articles starts with a broad, easily understandable description of voltage. This description is very general and non-mathematical. Note, though, that it is still a correct description, just one that can only be used in rather general and imprecise ways. By way of various analogies and models, the articles will gently move to more tightly defined, and more mathematical, descriptions of voltage that can be used in a wider range of situations. As you will see, voltage turns out to be a very abstract idea, even though the presence o voltage can have very concrete effects, and you’ll find out why physicists don’t like the term ‘voltage’ at all. If you find that the articles are leading you into water that is too deep for you, stop reading while you still understand what they are saying; you can always come back to the harder stuff another time.

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