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How Oscillators Work

Oscillator Circuits

Energy needs to move back and forth from one form to another for an oscillator to work. You can make a very simple oscillator by connecting a capacitor and an inductor together. If you've read How Capacitors Work and How Inductors Work, you know that both capacitors and inductors store energy. A capacitor stores energy in the form of an electrostatic field, while an inductor uses a magnetic field.

Imagine the following circuit:

If you charge up the capacitor with a battery and then insert the inductor into the circuit, here's what will happen:

  • The capacitor will start to discharge through the inductor. As it does, the inductor will create a magnetic field.
  • Once the capacitor discharges, the inductor will try to keep the current in the circuit moving, so it will charge up the other plate of the capacitor.
  • Once the inductor's field collapses, the capacitor has been recharged (but with the opposite polarity), so it discharges again through the inductor.

­ This oscillation will continue until the circuit runs out of energy due to resistance in the wire. It will oscillate at a frequency that depends on the size of the inductor and the capacitor.

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