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Electronics Schematics: Ground and Power Connections

In many electronic circuits, the distribution of voltage connections is one of the most complicated aspects of the circuit. In a more complicated circuit, there can be dozens or even hundreds of power connections. If all the lines representing those connections had to be drawn to the positive or negative side of the battery symbol, schematic diagrams would quickly be overwhelmed by the power connections.

Most circuits have a common path by which current returns to its source. The conductor collects current from the LED and the resistor and returns it to the battery. This conductor is necessary to complete the circuit so that current can flow in a complete loop from the battery through the various components and then back to the battery.

This common return path is often called the ground, and can be replaced by the ground symbol.

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In fact, most schematic diagrams use ground symbols instead of a line to show the path by which current returns to the battery.

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In addition to a common ground path, most circuits also have a common voltage path. The common voltage path goes from the battery to the resistor and on to the second transistor. This conductor can be replaced by symbols representing voltage sources that appear wherever voltage is required in a circuit.

The symbol for a voltage source is either an open circle or an arrow. The quantity of voltage is always indicated next to the circle or arrow.

When a voltage source symbol is used in a schematic diagram, the symbol for the battery (or other power source if the circuit isn't powered by a battery) is omitted. Instead, the presence of voltage source symbols implies that voltage is provided by some means, either by a battery or by some other device such as a solar cell or a power supply plugged into an electrical outlet.

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Although the circuit has a positive voltage source and the ground is negative, this isn't always the case. You can also use the voltage source symbol to refer to negative voltage. In that case, the ground actually carries positive voltage back to the source.

In some cases, a circuit may require both positive and negative voltages at different places within the circuit. Remember that voltages are always measured with respect to two points in a circuit. Thus, voltages are always relative. For example, the positive pole of a AAA battery is +1.5 V relative to the negative pole. At the same time, the negative pole of the battery is –1.5 V relative to the positive pole.

Now suppose you connect two AAA batteries end to end. Then, the voltage at the positive terminal of the first battery will be +3 V relative to the voltage at the negative terminal of the second battery.

But, the voltage at the positive pole of the first battery will be +1.5 V relative to the point between the batteries, and the voltage at the negative pole of the second battery will be –1.5 V relative to the point between the batteries.

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