ALTERNATING CURRENT – Nicola Tesla, George Westinghouse and Resonance (NCERT 12TH PHYSICS)

We have so far considered direct current (dc) sources and circuits with dc sources. These currents do not change direction with time. But voltages and currents that vary with time are very common. The electric mains supply in our homes and offices is a voltage that varies like a sine function with time. Such a voltage is called alternating voltage (ac voltage) and the current driven by it in a circuit is called the alternating current (ac current)*. Today, most of the electrical devices we use require ac voltage.

This is mainly because most of the electrical energy sold by power companies is transmitted and distributed as alternating current. The main reason for preferring use of ac voltage over dc voltage is that ac voltages can be easily and efficiently converted from one voltage to the other by means of transformers. Further, electrical energy can also be transmitted economically over long distances. AC circuits exhibit characteristics which are exploited in many devices of daily use. For example, whenever we tune our radio to a favourite station, we are taking advantage of a special property of ac circuits.

The phrases ac voltage and ac current are contradictory and redundant, respectively, since they mean, literally, alternating current voltage and alternating current current. Still, the abbreviation ac to designate an electrical quantity displaying simple harmonic time dependance has become so universally accepted that we follow others in its use. Further, voltage – another phrase commonly used means potential difference between two points.

Nicola Tesla (1856 – 1943)

Serbian-American scientist, inventor and genius. He conceived the idea of the rotating magnetic field, which is the basis of practically all alternating current machinery, and which helped usher in the age of electric power. He also invented among other things the induction motor, the polyphase system of ac power, and the high frequency induction coil (the Tesla coil) used in radio and television sets and other electronic equipment. The SI unit of magnetic field is named in his honour.

George Westinghouse (1846 – 1914)

A leading proponent of the use of alternating current over direct current. Thus, he came into conflict with Thomas Alva Edison, an advocate of direct current. Westinghouse was convinced that the technology of alternating current was the key to the electrical future. He founded the famous Company named after him and enlisted the services of Nicola Tesla and other inventors in the development of alternating current motors and apparatus for the transmission of high tension current, pioneering in large scale lighting.


An interesting characteristic of the series RLC circuit is the phenomenon of resonance. The phenomenon of resonance is common among systems that have a tendency to oscillate at a particular frequency. This frequency is called the system’s natural frequency. If such a system is driven by an energy source at a frequency that is near the natural frequency, the amplitude of oscillation is found to be large. A familiar example of this phenomenon is a child on a swing. The swing has a natural frequency for swinging back and forth like a pendulum. If the child pulls on the rope at regular intervals and the frequency of the pulls is almost the same as the frequency of swinging, the amplitude of the swinging will be large.

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