A potential divider is a simple circuit that uses resistors to supply a variable 'potential difference' (i.e. voltage).This can be used for many applications, including control of temperature in a fridge or as audio volume controls. Understanding how the resistors in the circuit allow this is important for designing many electronic circuits. Here you can investigate how changes in the two resistors can lead to different voltages across them.
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Most electrical or electronic circuits use the voltage across the circuit components to perform some task. This includes motors, sensors, speakers, computer chips, LEDs and diode lasers, communications antennas (e.g. in mobile phones), heaters, turbines, and mains electricity delivery to houses and industry.
It is important to know how to control the voltages in these circuits to make the applications work! The simplest circuit to start to understand this is the potential divider, which is made up of two resistors in series. Other circuits may be made of more advanced components but often use the same principles of how voltage (i.e. ‘potential’) division. For example: two transistors in opposite high or low resistance states and connected in series are used to define whether a ‘logic gate’ is set to a digital (‘Boolean’) value of 1 or 0, and are a fundamental building block of how a digital computer processor works.
Sensors can be made from a fixed resistor and a component that has a resistance that depends on whatever is being sensed connected, e.g. a thermistor for sensing heat or a light-dependent resistor for sensing light. A voltage applied to the two components in series allows the voltage across the fixed resistor to be a measure of the resistance of the sensing element’s resistance. This approach can avoid some difficulties of just using the single element, such as high power consumption.
Electrical heaters (including room heaters, cookers and hair dryers) use a fixed resistance heating element (e.g. a coil of wire) and a variable resistance transistor in series. The resistance of the transistor then controls how much voltage is across the heating element and, therefore, how much electrical heating is produced!
This experiment allows you to gain a good understanding of the potential divider. It also allows you to reinforce your understanding of Ohm’s law, how resistor coloured bands code for resistance, and how to use digital multimeters (DMMs), which you may have already met in the FlashyScience Ohm’s law virtual experiment.
Download the attached file to see the full Quick Guide (requires log in) or follow the instructions below:
To measure resistance:
To change a resistor:
To measure voltage and current:
Download the attached file to see the full operating instructions for the Potential Divider experiment (requires log in)
Download the attached file to see lots of Potential Divider questions and experiments (requires log in)
Download the attached file to see the Background to the Potential Divider experiment (requires log in)
The electrical resistivity of a wire tells us how well the wire material conducts electricity. This is crucial information for any application that involves conducting electricity, including wind turbines, electric vehicles, household electrical goods and computers. Here you can measure the resistivity of wires of different materials and widths, and consider which would be best suited for conducting electricity.
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Electronic materials are crucial to our life today, and electrical ‘resistivity’ tells us how good or poor a material is at conducting electricity.
We use materials with low electrical resistivity to transmit electrical power from generators, across grid distribution networks, and to homes and workplaces for use. Designers of electrical devices rely on knowing the resistivity of wire used in order to calculate the resistance of components.
These devices range in size from enormous machines such as wind turbines or industrial lifting equipment; motors or engines in electric vehicles and all-new electric aircraft; consumer products such as washing machines, hair dryers and ovens; and the nanoscale components within the computer chips found in smart devices, laptops, and mobile phones.
In fact, modern computing is based on controlling the resistivity of semiconductor materials in a type of transistor (known as ‘field effect transistors’ using ‘CMOS’ technology).
Measuring electrical resistivity helps us to understand the properties of materials, to monitor manufacturing processes, and to select the best material for an application.
Click on the link below to download the Quick Guide for using the Resistivity experiment. Or follow the brief instructions here:
Click on the link to download a pdf of the Instructions for operating the Resistivity experiment
Click on the link below to download a pdf of example questions for the Resistivity experiment.
Click on the link to download the Background pdf for the Resistivity experiment.