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Now, just like lightning, charges have a tendency to try to make their way to the earth if they can. This is why if you have a conducting material and connect it to the earth with a wire or something, it is said to be grounded. Grounding is a good thing to do with circuits because if there is too much charge going through a circuit, you don't want it to stay in the circuit and fry everything, grounding a circuit is generally safe. To finish off the idea of the very basic circuit, we know that it allows a charge to build up and move through it, now we need to know that the circuit must be complete. The ending picture of the circuit must make a complete loop so that those charges that like to move have somewhere to allways go. What happens if you hook a wire from one end of a battery to nothing else.....NOTHING. The circuit is not completed therefore the charges can't move off the end of the wire and continue to go.
Voltage, Current, and Resistance
When working with circuits, the three basic elements to anaylizing the circuit are voltage, current, and resistance. These three readings help you find out all the information you need on how the cicuit will work and they are all related to eachother through Ohm's law which states that Voltage is equal to current times resistance.
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Voltage is read in terms of volts (V) which has a relationship of 1 volt is equal to 1 Joule per Coulomb. Voltage is the work required per unit charge to move those charges. Voltage is the workhorse of all circuits and almost ALL basics circuits contain a voltage source such as the battery in the above diagram. Here is a picture to help understand the idea of how voltage works. It is going back to the plumbing aspect seeing as how the two can be so closely related.
As you can see, the voltage is like a piston which pushes the "fluid" through a pipe. This is representing the voltage pushing current through the circuit. Voltage can appear in other situations besides circuits, such as voltage that is in an electric field. Voltage in those situations don't directly relate to the circuitry at hand so they will be skipped.
Current is the rate of flow of electrons through a circuit. So when you have a battery connected to a wire pushing those electric charges, it creates a current. Current can be thought of as the amount of charge that passes through a space per unit time (a second usually). Current is read in the unit of ampere (A). 1 Ampere is equal to 1 Coulomb per second.
As you can see from the picture above, the current flow moves around the completed loop of the circuit. If the voltage was kept at a constant number then the current would be higher with the less amount of resistance, showing that it can flow more easily.
This is where the voltage and current meet up at, the resistance. Resistance is the opposition to the flow of electrons. It is the jagged rocks in the river that slow down the movement of the water, it is the clog in your drain that slows down the speed of the flow. VIVA LA RESISTANCE! The Resistances of an object can be calculated if you know its length, cross-sectional area and its conductivity. Resistance in an object (a wire for example) is the length of the object over the conductivity times the cross-sectional area. Now, most things that are used for resistance aren't listed with their conductivity too much, instead they go by resistivity which is 1 over conductivity. This makes the resistance of an object to come out to be the resitivity times the length, all over the cross-sectional area. Resistivity is given in Ohms per meter and an example resistivity would be 1.7 x 10^-8 (which is copper, the most commonly used wire material). Because most circuits use short pieces of wire, their resistance is often not included when equating out the values of a circuit. When you are comparing two resistances and the wire is to the exponenet of -8, it tends not to matter. Most resistance that is looked at in a circuit is from actual resistors. These are used to reduce the current in a circuit or in some cases, increase the voltage. How the three elements relate has been stated by the fast and simple V=IR.
Capacitance, Inductance, and Diodes
Capacitors, inductors, and diodes are used a lot in circuits and are the three primary components that are added to a circuit beyond resistors and loads. An inductor is the component which is made up of a wire that is wrapped around some type of core many times which opposes the change in electrical current. What this means is that when the current is trying to change the inductor atempts to counter balance that change and in doing so it inducts a voltage across itself. The voltage created is the inductance (in Henrys) times the change in current over the change in time. Now an inductor has many variables which change its inductance from the material which it is composed of to what fills its core.
The Capacitor is the component which is made up of two conductors (usually plates) separated by a dielectric material. The capacitor can store an electric charge which can only be done also by a battery. The capacitor stores charge by separating the positive and negative charges which creates and electic field, or voltage. If the voltage varies by time it will make a displacement current in the space previously occupied by the field. The current of a capacitor can be found by taking the capacitance (in Farads) times the change in the voltage over the change in time. The capacitance has variables such as what the material is made of, the area that the plates are, and the space between the plates.
Last but not least are Diodes. To give an idea how a diode works we will go back to the idea of plumbing. Diodes work as valves to allow flow to push the valve open in one direction but close off in the other direction. Diodes have been used since the early 1900's and have been a major element in radio recievers. As seen in the picture above, a diode is split between to parts, the P section and the N section. The N type of the diode is a metal, usually Silicon doped with some other type of element such as phosphorus. The N type has an extra electron in its outershell and therefor is known as the donar because it will be giving up its electron. On the other side is the P type which can be something like Silicon doped with boron. The P type, also known as acceptor, has only 3 electrons in its valence shell and is ready to recieve an electron. When you put these two types together, it creates a valve in which curren can flow from N to P but not in the reverse direction.