# Physics Factsheet

www.curriculum-press.co.uk Number 136

Interpreting and Using V-I Graphs
A V-I characteristic is a graph of how the current through a component varies with the potential difference across it. You need to recall and explain the shape of three V-I characteristics: filament lamp (light-bulb), semiconductor diode and a conductor that obeys Ohm’s law.
Fixed reistor (Ohmic conductor) V Filament lamp

Fig 1. Ohmic conductor
I

I V

The V-I characteristic for an Ohmic conductor (like a fixed resistor or piece of wire) is a straight line through the origin
Semiconductor diode

Worked example 1
A V-I characteristic is graph of current against potential difference for a component. Exam Hint: You will need to recall and explain V-I characteristics for filament lamps, semiconductor diodes and Ohmic conductors. (a) Draw the V-I characteristic for two Ohmic conductors, X and Y, on the axes. Y has a lower resistance than X. (2 marks)

Ohmic conductor
An Ohmic conductor obeys Ohm’s law. In exam questions, Ohmic conductors are typically fixed resistors or simply a piece of wire in a circuit. Ohm’s law states that the current passing through a conductor is proportional to the potential difference across the conductor: I ∝ V This can only be true if the resistance of the component does NOT vary. As a conductor heats up, it’s resistance increases. So a conductor that obeys Ohm’s law must stay at the same temperature. Exam Hint: An Ohmic conductor must remain at constant temperature for the resistance to remain constant. (b) State and explain which component, P or Q, is an Ohmic conductor. (2 marks)
4.0 I

3.0

P

2.0 Q 1.0

A circuit that could be used to measure the V-I characteristic for a component is shown below. The current through the fixed resistor is measured for a given potential difference. Then the variable resistor is altered and the current is measured again, producing the V-I characteristic for an Ohmic conductor (Fig 1).

0

0

1.0

2.0

3.0

V 4.0

(c) (i) Calculate the resistance of component Q at 0.5V and 4.0V. (2 marks) (ii) Explain the differences in your resistance values.(2 marks) (iii)Calculate the resistance of component P. (1 mark)

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136. Interpreting and Using V-I Graphs

Physics Factsheet

Worked example 1 Answers
(a) Both X and Y are straight lines through the origin. Gradient of Y is greater than X.
I Y

Explanation: As the resistance of Y is lower than X, more current can pass through Y for the same potential difference. (b) Component P. The resistance does not vary. Explanation: The graph of an Ohmic conductor is a straight line through the origin. This is because the current through an Ohmic conductor is directly proportional to the potential difference across it. (c) (i) For Q, when V=0.5V, I = 0.9A V/I=R 0.5V/0.9A = 0.6Ω when V=4V, I = 1.6A V/I=R 4V/1.6A = 2.5Ω (ii) The bulb filament is hotter at 4V than 0.5V. The metal ions vibrate more rapidly in their lattice at higher temperature and collide more often with conduction electrons, leading to higher resistance. (iii) V/I=R 4V/3A = 1.3Ω

X

V

Filament lamp
An Ohmic conductor should remain at constant temperature. What about a conductor that changes temperature? A filament lamp consists of a very thin wire which becomes hot as current passes through it. It becomes so hot that it glows, giving off light (and significant wasted heat) Fig 2. The resistance of a bulb increases with temperature and voltage.

Semiconductor diodes
A diode allows current to pass in only one direction when a potential difference is applied across it (forward bias). If potential difference is applied in the opposite direction, no current flows (reverse bias).

Fig 3. Semiconductor diode
I

Fig 2. Filament lamp
I Breakdown voltage 50-500 V V 0.7

V

A diode allows current to pass in one direction when a p.d. is applied. If the reverse p.d. is applied, little or no current flows. A diode does not conduct until a threshold p.d. is passed, usually about 0.6-0.7V. The metal filament, usually tungsten, reaches about 2000oC. This causes a ten-fold increase in resistance compared to lower current. A metal consists of a lattice of vibrating positive ions, surrounded by a “sea” of electrons free to move. As a conductor gets warmer, the positive ions vibrate more, making collisions with conduction electrons more likely, increasing the resistance. Exam Hint: Remember that a semiconductor diode does not conduct if less than about 0.7V is applied across it. If a much larger reverse bias p.d. is applied, the diode will eventually break down and conduct. This breakdown p.d. could be from 50500V depending on the individual component. A diode has very high resistance when an applied forward bias potential difference is below 0.6V or if a reverse bias potential difference is applied.

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136. Interpreting and Using V-I Graphs
Worked example 3
(a) Explain the term ‘reverse bias’ for a semiconductor diode (2 marks) (b) (i) State how the resistance of a semiconductor varies with applied potential difference in both directions (3 marks) (ii) Draw the V-I characteristic for a diode when a reverse bias potential difference is applied.

Physics Factsheet