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Are dead chickens ohmic?
Slavko Kocijancic
and Colm OSullivan
Faculty of Education, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Department of Physics, National University of Ireland, Cork, Ireland
Modern low-cost data acquisition systems enable pupils to study the
voltagecurrent characteristics of a wide range of different materials and
devices in a quick and convenient way. In particular, it is possible to study
materials, such as meat and vegetables, not normally associated with school
physics experiments.
Manyphysics courses require the studyof voltage
current graphs for different materials and devices.
Pupils are most interested in this if they are able
to perform simple hands-on experiments from
which they can generate their own voltagecurrent
Although the resistivity of metals and alloys
is temperature dependent, their voltagecurrent
characteristics are linear at any given temperature
(Ohms law). Essentially it is only metals at
constant temperature that are truly ohmic [1] but
other materials may be considered approximately
ohmic in limited circumstances.
Modern low-cost data acquisition systems
(also called dataloggers), which measure the
current through a sample whilst automatically
increasing the applied voltage, allow V/I
investigations to be carried out quickly and
conveniently. Pupils can study a wide range of
different conducting and semiconducting devices
very quickly. Biological materials, such as meat
and vegetables, show nonlinear behaviour, which
pupils nd interesting.
The experiments described below were
performed using the e-Prolab data acquisition
system designed and developed as part of the
EU Leonardo da Vinci project Computerised
Laboratory in Science and Technology Teaching
(ComLab-SciTech). Technical details on this
data acquisition systemand information on prices,
purchasing, etc may be found on the ComLab
website [2]. The experiments may also be
carried out using most other commonly used data
acquisition systems.
Experimental arrangement
The basic hardware required outside the data
acquisition system is outlined in gure 1. The
software is programmed to generate an analogue
voltage output, Vout1, which is automatically
increased in 40 steps of 0.125 Vfrom0 Vto 5.0 V.
This interface output is capable of delivering a
current of up to 150 mA. The time between steps
(called the dwell time in what follows) may be
set by the user. Rx represents the device under
investigation and Rref is a reference resistor whose
resistance is known; the value of Rref must be
selected depending on the anticipated range of
Figure 1. Connections of the reference resistor Rref
and investigated sample Rx to the data acquisition
interface for determination of voltagecurrent curves.
0031-9120/04/010069+05$30.00 2004 IOP Publishing Ltd PHYS I CS EDUCATI ON 39 (1) 69
S Kocijancic and C OSullivan

Figure 2. VI plots for a thermistor with a negative
temperature coefcient of resistance at 2

C (blue),

C (red) and 34

C (green); the corresponding
resistance has been calculated by the software in each
the resistance of Rx. The computer samples and
stores the voltage at the analogue input, Vin4,
duringeachstepof the output voltage (Vout1). The
software determines the voltage across the sample
(V = Vout1Vin4) and the corresponding current
through the sample (I = Vin4/Rref).
Linear (ohmic) materials
If Rx is an ordinary resistor and provided its
resistance is not too small, the current delivered
is not usually sufcient to change the temperature
signicantly. For such systems, Ohms law can be
seen to hold within the accuracy of the experiment.
Other devices, such as thermistors (gure 2) also
show linear (ohmic) behaviour if the temperature
is kept constant during the measurements. Light-
dependent resistors are also seen to be linear
provided the illumination is unchanging as are
simple electrolytes at xed concentrations [3].
The use of data acquisition systems to study the
voltagecurrent characteristics of such materials
and devices is well known and will not be
discussed further here.
Pseudo-nonlinear devices
It is often stated [4] that lament lamps are
nonlinear devices: this is misleading. It is
true that, when using traditional ammeters and
voltmeters, the observed plots form a nonlinear
characteristic curve. This is, of course, because
the lament heats up more and more as the current

Figure 3. VI plots for a lament lamp with dwell
times of zero (brown), 10 ms (black), 50 ms (green),
200 ms (red) and 1 s (blue); the slope of the straight
line has been computed for the data with zero dwell
is increased, increasing its resistance. Using a
data acquisition system, such as described above,
the whole voltagecurrent plot may be obtained
before the lament has time to heat signicantly,
in which case the VI curve is linear (straight line
data in gure 3). By repeating the experiment
with different dwell times, a range of different
characteristic VI curves can be obtained.
Figure 3 shows VI plots for a 6 V, 80 mA
bulb at ve different dwell times from effectively
zero up to one second. Pupils have learned
a great deal by discussing the shape of these
curves in terms of Joule heating and heat transfer
mechanisms in the bulb. (For a summary of the
basic physics of anincandescent light bulbsee [5].)
True nonlinear devices
The voltagecurrent characteristic curves of most
semiconductor devices are signicantly nonlinear,
for example junction diodes, light-emitting
diodes (gure 4) collectoremitter/sourcedrain
characteristics of a transistor at constant base/gate
voltage, etc. Advanced level pupils can be
challenged to relate the switch on voltage of an
LEDto the colour of its light using the relationship

= eU
Biological systems
Various fruits, meats and different types of wood
show interesting voltagecurrent behaviours.
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Are dead chickens ohmic?

Figure 4. VI curves for four types of light-emitting
diodes: infrared (left), red, yellow and green (right).
The switch on voltage has been determined by the
software in each case.

Figure 5. Electrodes for contact with biological
Simple metal electrodes like those illustrated in
gure 5 are suitable for making electrical contact
with most biological specimens.
Figure 6shows howelectrical contact maybe made
to a potato, to the outside skin (left) and to a peeled
sample cut in the form of a block of length 2 cm
(right). As can be seen from the VI curves in
gure 7, potato skin is a poor conductor while
the interior material clearly displays non-ohmic
A similar experiment can be performed using
samples of animal esh. Electrodes can be
connected to a piece of raw chicken (gure 8),
initially to the outside skin and then, having
removed the skin, directly to the esh of the
chicken. Again, electrical conductivity through

Figure 6. Electrodes connected to the outside skin of a
potato (left) and to a sample of potato cut in a block
Figure 7. VI curves for different thicknesses of
potato between electrodes; the data close to the vertical
axis are for electrodes in contact with the outside skin.
Figure 8. Electrodes connected to a piece of chicken
before removing skin (top left), with skin removed
(bottom left) and placed in dish of slightly salted water
the skin is seen to be signicantly lower than
through the esh (gure 9). By placing the
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S Kocijancic and C OSullivan
Figure 9. VI curves for electrodes connected to a
piece of chicken meat covered by skin (blue), chicken
meat with skin removed (red) and the curve for
electrodes placed in salinated water (green) for
Figure 10. Three samples of wood all of
approximately 1 cm diameter: 10 cm linden (top),
10 cm maple (centre) and 5 cm linden (bottom).
electrodes in a dish of water (right-hand image in
gure 8), it is possible to simulate the conductivity
through chicken esh by adding an appropriate
quantity of salt water.
Short lengths of stick cut from different trees
make convenient samples for the study of
voltagecurrent behaviour in biological materials
(gure 10). Again the voltagecurrent behaviour
is signicantly nonlinear (gure 11) but the
dependence on length and cross-sectional area
is similar to that exhibited by ohmic materials.
The relative conductivities of similarly shaped
samples reect the relative dryness or wetness of
the specimens.
Human tissue
The same electrodes described above for making
contact with potato or chicken samples may be
Figure 11. VI curves for the three samples of wood
in gure 10: 10 cm linden (blue), 10 cm maple (red)
and 5 cm linden (green).

Figure 12. Arrangement for the study of
voltagecurrent behaviour in human tissue.
Figure 13. VI curves showing how different
conditions of the skin inuence electrical conductivity
in human tissue: contact made with dry ngers (blue),
wet ngers (green) and salinated wet ngers (red).
utilized again to study the conductivity behaviour
in human tissue (gure 12). The voltage across
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Are dead chickens ohmic?

Figure 14. VI curves showing the difference in
electrical conductivity in the cases of a 43-year-old
individual (blue) and a six-year-old child (red).
and the corresponding current ow between one
nger and another show different voltagecurrent
characteristics when dry, wet and salty wet ngers
are compared (gure 13). The relatively poor
conductivity of human skin has important practical
consequences. As well as protecting us from
damage by currents from low voltage sources, it
is important for the working of devices such as
electrocardiograms and lie detectors.
There are signicant differences between
young and older individuals (gure 14). Slight
differences may be observed if the ngers from
opposite hands are used as distinct from ngers of
the same hand.
The work described in this paper was carried
out under the EU Leonardo da Vinci Community
Vocational Training Action Programme, project
SI143008 Computerised Laboratory in Science
and Technology Teaching (ComLab-SciTech) [2].
Support received is gratefully acknowledged.
Received 29 August 2003
PII: S0031-9120(04)68110-X
DOI: 10.1088/0031-9120/39/1/005
[1] OSullivan C T 1980 Ohms law and the denition
of resistance Phys. Educ. 15 237
[3] Konicek L, Mechlova E and Balnar A 2003
Computerised laboratory: conductivity in
liquids Proc. 8th MIRK Conf., Piran p 257
[4] See, for example,
lab219/lab219 ULI.html
[5] MacIsaac D, Kanner G and Anderson G 1999
Phys. Teach. 37 520
Slavko Kocijancic has a PhD in
Electrical Engineering. He taught
physics at high school level from
19829. Since then he has lectured in
electronics at the Faculty of Education,
University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. He is
involved in design and development of
instrumentation and software for science
laboratories in schools and universities.
Colm OSullivan has a PhD in
Astrophysics. He has been Senior
Lecturer in the Department of Physics,
National University of Ireland, Cork
since 1970. During this time his research
interests have involved cosmic ray
astrophysics and physics education.
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