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Fun with Snap Circuits 1: “Scotty, I need more power!”

February 25, 2011

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  –John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton

Nearly all of your Snap Circuits projects will need power and usually in the form of Direct Current (DC). So, we’ll need batteries.  Batteries are used to store energy. We can think of a battery as a water tank. The tank will hold water until we can drain the water out of the tank. To drain the water from the tank we can connect a pipe at the bottom of the tank. This will allow the water to flow through the pipe and we can use the water flowing through the pipe to do useful work. Keep in mind, of course, that what is flowing is a current of electrons rather than a current of water, but the water pipe analogy is often used to help people understand electronic circuits.

Imagine a battery as being a tank full of water. The tank will hold the water until we connect a pipe at the bottom of the tank that will allow the water to flow through the pipe to do useful work. (Source:

The above graphic is the simplest way to think about how a battery puts energy into a circuit, but there are other ways to imagine an electronic circuit. I found these two Quick time movies that can also help you to visualize the flow of current through a circuit. In the in the first movie we see a hamster running in its exercise wheel. The axle of the exercise wheel is connected to a waterbucket wheel. As the water bucket wheel turns each bucket scoops up water from the bottom trough and raises it up to the top trough where the water from each bucket is dumped out. In the second movie, the water in the top trough flows to a drainpipe that drains into the bottom trough. The water flows from the drain pipe back to the waterbucket wheel to be scooped up and raised to the top trough again.

Click here to view the first quicktime movie

Click here to view the second quicktime movie

You can think of a battery as a filled tank of water or a hamster driven waterbucket wheel or you may have thought of another anaology–whatever is easiest for you to visualize a battery a putting energy into an electronic circuit. Indeed, in the Snap Circuits manuals, you may see a  water pump used as an anaology for a battery.

Water pump analogy for battery (Source:

In some of the Snap Circuits manuals you may see a complete electronic circuit pictured as a water pipe analogy:

Complete electronic circuit pictured as water pipe analogy. (Source:

Occasionally you might see the piston analogy used for a battery in Snap Circuits manuals and sometimes online too:

The piston pushes the water through the pipe.

Now that we’ve beaten the water pipe analogy to death we’ll take a look at the electronic symbol  for a battery, and as I said in the introductory post, the cool thing about Snap Circuits is that the electronic schematic symbol for each electronic component is printed on the plastic case. Here is an example of a battery holder:

Snap Circuits battery holder has the electronic schematic symbol for the battery printed on the plastic case. (source:

Now you know what a battery does and what it’s electronic schematic symbol looks like.

Here’s a video by Areil Churi from Sparkle Labs that may help you understand batteries and electrical pressure:

Electrical Pressure from Sparkle Labs on Vimeo.


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  1. I blog too and I’m writing something related to this blog post,
    “Fun with Snap Circuits 1: Scotty, I need more power!
    funwithsnapcircuits”. Do you really care if perhaps I actuallyincorporate a
    bit of of your own tips? Many thanks ,Kristi

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