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Electro/Digital
Electrical resistance
This lesson will deal with the different properties and applications of electrical
resistors. Particular consideration will be given to the Wheatstone bridge.
The aspect of voltage losses in (long) electrical lines will be discussed briefly at
the end of this lesson.

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Resistance and conductivity

Voltage dividers

Wheatstone bridge

Effects of temperature

Voltage losses

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Lesson
1. Resistance and conductivity
A current will flow when the ends of a conductive wire are connected to a power
supply. The size of this current is determined by the voltage applied and by the
electrical resistance of the wire. If the voltage is kept constant but the length of
the wire is increased, then the intensity of the current will be reduced. If a
thicker wire is used and the voltage is kept the same, then the intensity of the
current will increase. If a wire made from a different material is measured, then
other values for the resistance will result. This shows that the resistance also
depends on the type of material used.
The electrical resistance is:
- directly proportional to the length of the wire;
- inversely proportional to the cross section of the wire;
- directly proportional to the resistivity of the material used.
The equation for the electrical resistance is as follows:
R=

( 1 ?)
A

In which:
R = electrical resistance ( )
l = length (m)
A = cross section (mm2)
= resistivity in m

- conductivity (G)

The electrical resistance is the measure of the extent to which a material opposes
the flow of an electric current. On the other hand, the conductance or
conductivity (G) is the measure of the extent to which a material allows the
electric current to pass through. Mathematically, the conductivity has the inverse
value of the resistance:
G=

- siemens (S) unit

1
R

The unit of measurement chosen for conductivity is the siemens (S). The
conductivity is always used when measuring the electrical conductivity of fluids.
When two electrodes immersed in a conductive fluid are connected to a power
supply, then an electric current will flow between them. The fluid behaves in the
same way as a solid conductor and is also able to conduct an electric current.

- free electrons
- ions

In this connection, an important difference is that the electrical charge in solid

substances is transported by free electrons. The electrical charge in fluids,
however, is transported by ions (charged atoms or molecules). The measurement
of the conductivity of a fluid is therefore an indication of the ion concentration
in this fluid.
Question 1
What unit does the siemens (S) correspond to?

2. Voltage dividers
- fixed and variable
resistors

- potentiometers

- LIN or LOG

Up to this point, we have only dealt with fixed resistors. This means resistors
with a fixed resistance value. In practice, there are also variable resistors. In
current circuits it is often useful to be able to control the intensity of the current
in an adjustable manner. A variable resistor is used for this purpose. Resistors of
this type are usually composed of a long wire which is wound uniformly around
an insulating strip. An easily adjustable terminal is attached along the winding of
this wire. When the length of the resistor wire is changed, then this also changes
the resistance value.
Variable resistors of this kind are also known as voltage dividers or
potentiometers, depending on the application. There are two types of
potentiometer: linear and logarithmic. The difference between them relates to
the change in resistance when the potentiometer is rotated. Figure 1 shows the
difference between these two designs. The type of design is indicated on the
potentiometer by the designation LIN. or LOG.

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Figure 1
Difference between linear and logarithmic potentiometers

When a linear potentiometer is rotated by the same amount its resistance

increases proportionately. When a logarithmic potentiometer is a rotated by the
same amount its resistance changes by an exponent of 10. This means, for
example, that a rotation of 150causes a change of 10 and a rotation of 300
causes a change of 100 .
Question 2
What is the distinction between the two types of potentiometers?
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3. Wheatstone bridge
According to Kirchhoffs voltage law, the sum of the voltages in a closed circuit
is equal to zero. Figure 2 shows a circuit which is generally known as a
Wheatstone bridge.

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Figure 2
Wheatstone bridge

In a Wheatstone bridge, the voltage is divided between two series circuits

composed of resistors. Figure 2 shows fixed resistors. In a measurement circuit,
the Wheatstone bridge is formed by one or more voltage dividers. The following
applies for a circuit of this type:
for the left voltage divider (R1 + R2):

V1
V2

V3
V4

R1
R2
=

R3
R4

If the ratios of the resistors are chosen such that

R1
R2

R3
R4

then

V1
V2

V3
V4

is

also valid. In this special case, the voltage Vtot is divided between R1 and R2 in
the same way as it is between R3 and R4. This means that the ammeter
corresponds exactly to the zero position. For an application of this kind, an
ammeter with the zero position in the centre is chosen.
If the value of one of the resistors changes, then the needle of the ammeter is
deflected. The resistance value of a resistor can be determined easily and
accurately by using a Wheatstone bridge. In order to determine the resistance in
this way, R1 is replaced by unknown resistance Rx. Resistors R2 and R4 have
fixed resistances with values that are known precisely. A potentiometer is used
for R3. The value at each level can be read off accurately from a scale.

The unknown resistance is determined by adjusting R3 so that the ammeter

points to 0. If this is satisfied, then the following applies:
Rx
R
= 3
R 2 R4

or:
Rx =

R3
R4

R2

Question 3
How can electrical resistance be measured accurately?

4. Effects of temperature

- temperature
coefficient

Electrical resistance is affected by changes in temperature. The effect of

temperature on different materials does not appear to be the same. For metals,
the resistance increases when the temperature is increased. For semi-conductors,
conductive fluids or gases, the resistance appears to decrease as the temperature
is increased. The relationship between temperature variations and its effect on
the electrical resistance is governed by the temperature coefficient for a
particular material, which indicates how much the electrical resistance of a
resistor of 1 made from that material changes when the temperature changes
by 1 degree Celsius.
If the resistance in practice is equal to R and the temperature variation is
(tw - tc) C, then the change in the resistance can be calculated as follows:
Rw = Rc * {1 + (tw - tc)}
In which:
= temperature coefficient (C-1)
Rw = resistance at the new temperature ( )
Rc = resistance at the original temperature ( )
tw = new temperature (C)
tc = original temperature (C)

- NTC/PTC

Materials with a particularly high temperature coefficient are used specifically

for measuring the temperature. Resistors of this kind are known as NTC and
PTC resistors.
NTC
= Negative Temperature Coefficient
PTC
= Positive Temperature Coefficient
In addition to these temperature-dependent resistors, there are also resistors that
are influenced by other variables. Examples of other special resistors, which will
be dealt with later, are:
- pressure-dependent resistors;
- light-dependent resistors.
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Resistance data for a number of different materials are collected in table 1. The
data in the table is given at 20 C because the resistivity is also dependent on
temperature.
Table 1
Resistance data for different materials at 20C
Material
Resistivity
Specific
.mm2/m
conductivity
S.m/mm2
Aluminium
0.03
33.3
Constantan
0.5
2.1
Carbon
600
0.0017
Copper
0.0175
57
0.21
4.7
Manganese
0.42
2.4
Brass
0.07
14.3
Nickel
0.44
2.4
Steel
0.12
8.3
Silver
0.016
62.5

Temperature
coefficient 1/K
0.0037
-0.00004
-0.0005
0.0037
0.004
0.00001
0.0015
0.0085
0.0052
0.0036

Question 4
What materials in table 1 have a negative temperature coefficient?
Question 5
When a bulb is turned on what causes the current flowing through it to be
approximately eight times higher than the standard current?

5. Voltage losses
An electric heater is connected to the mains power supply, as shown in figure 3.

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Figure 3
Circuit diagram showing an example of voltage losses

The supply voltage for the heater hardly differs from the voltage of the mains
power supply. The voltage loss in the short copper wire that is 1 m long is only
0.1 V. Such a small difference, with respect to 220 V, is negligible. If the heater
was connected via a supply line that was 100 m long, then the voltage loss
would be 100x larger greater. In such a case, the loss amounts to 10 V.
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The higher voltage loss is caused by:

- the longer supply line;
- the relatively high current in the line (10 A).
In order to prevent high losses, it must be determined whether voltage loss is
permissible. If not, then a wire with a larger cross section must be used, for
example. For power plants, a maximum voltage loss of 5% of the mains supply
voltage is usually acceptable; for domestic installations this value is %; for
instrumentation line losses should be such that they do not affect the operation
of the equipment and should generally not exceed 5%.
Example 1
A motor is connected to the mains power supply via a copper cable that is 50 m
long. The motor requires a current of 18 A. The cross section of the cable is
2.5 mm2. How many volts are lost in the cable, and what is the voltage at the
terminals of the motor?
For this, the resistance of the entire line must first be calculated:
Rline =

1*?
A

Value for copper can be found in table 1

Rline =

Rline =

100 * 0.0175 * 10
2.5 * 10 6
1.75
2.5

-6

= 0.7

Then the voltage loss in the line is calculated:

Vline = l * Rline
Vline = 18 * 0.7 = 12.6 V
The voltage at the terminals of the motor can be calculated from:
Vmotor = Vmains - Vline
Vmotor = 220 - 12.6 = 207.4 V
The voltage loss in this line is greater than 5% of the mains supply voltage. In
this case, it would be advisable to chose a wire with a larger cross section.
Question 6
What factors are important with respect to voltage loss?

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Summary
Electrical resistance is:
- directly proportional to the length of the wire;
- inversely proportional to the cross sectional area of the wire;
- directly proportional to the resistivity of the material used.
The resistivity (or specific resistance) of a material is the resistance of the
material for each 1 m in length and for each 1 mm2 of the cross section at 20 C.
As a equation, this is given by: rho= (A*R)/l
Conductivity is the reciprocal of the resistance: G =

1
R

Voltage dividers or potentiometers are variable resistors.

There are two types of potentiometers:
- linear potentiometers;
- logarithmic potentiometers.
The Wheatstone bridge is a circuit of two voltage dividers connected in parallel
with an ammeter between them. The bridge is balanced if the ammeter is at 0.
This bridge circuit is used to determine the resistance value of an unknown
resistance of a resistor.
When the Wheatstone bridge is balanced, the unknown resistance is calculated
as follows:
R3
* R 2 = Rx
R4
The temperature coefficient indicates how much the resistance of a resistor of 1
made from the material under consideration changes when the temperature
changes by 1 degree Celsius. This can be given by the following equation:
Rw = Rc (l + (tw - tc)
For metals, the resistance increases when the temperature is increased. For semiconductors, conductive fluids or gases, the resistance appears to decrease as the
temperature increases.
Voltage losses in electrical lines are determined by the length of the lines as well
as the intensity of the current passing through the lines.
For power plants, a voltage loss of at most 5% of the mains supply voltage is
usually permissible; for domestic installation this value is 2%; for
instrumentation line or cable losses should be such that they do not affect the
operation of the equipment and should therefore generally not exceed 5%.

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Test
Exercises
Do not send in your answers for correction
1.

Two resistors, R1 = 25 and R2 = 100 , are connected in parallel.

Determine the conductivity of the parallel circuit.

2.

A wire has a diameter of 3 mm, a length of 706.5 cm and a resistance of

2 . What is the resistivity of the material?

3.

What is the cross section of a silver fuse wire if the resistance is 0.006
and the length is 45 mm?

3.

50 C?

5.

The resistance of a carbon resistor at 20C is 100 k . At 60C, the

resistance is 98 k . Calculate the temperature coefficient of the carbon
from which the resistor is made.

6.

A resistance of 500 is required for a measuring instrument. This resistor

is made from a constantan wire with a of 0.5 * 10-6 m and a diameter of
0.15 mm. How many centimetres of constantan wire are needed in this
case?

7.

A electrical load is connected to a mains power supply by means of a

copper cable that is 100 m long. The current is 7 A and the cross section of
the cable is 2.5 mm2. Calculate the voltage at the connection terminals of
this load ( = 0.0175 * 10-6 m).

1

or -1

1.

2.

Voltage dividers or potentiometers are variable resistors. There are two

types of potentiometers:
- linear potentiometers;
- logarithmic potentiometers.

3.

An unknown resistance can be accurately determined by using the

Wheatstone bridge (see figure 2 in this lesson).
In order to determine the resistance in this way, R1 is replaced by unknown
resistance Rx. Resistors R2 and R4 have fixed resistances with values that are
known precisely. A potentiometer is used for R3. The value at each level can
be read off accurately from a scale. The unknown resistance is determined
by adjusting R3 till the ammeter reads zero. If this is satisfied, then the
R
following applies: R x = 3 * R2
R4

4.

Both constantan and carbon have a negative temperature coefficient.

5.

When turned on, the resistance of the filament is relatively low. As a result
the starting current will be very high. After switching on, the filament will
quickly reach a particularly high temperature. Because the filament has a
positive temperature coefficient, this will cause the resistance to increase.
The result is that the intensity of the current will be lower during operation
than when it is switched on.

6.

Voltage losses in electrical lines are determined by the length of the lines as
well as the intensity of the current passing through the lines.

1.

as follows:
1
Re

1
R1

1
R2

1
Re

1
25

1 + 4 + 1 = 5
100 100 100 100

1
Rv

100
= 20
5

10

2.

Expressed as a equation, the electrical resistance is as follows:

R=

(1 )
A

By filling in the data, the following is obtained (pay attention to the units):
2=

(7.065 )
(0.25 3.14 3 2

Calculating the above gives the following:

= 2 .mm2/m 210-6 m
3.

R=

(1 )
A

(A = cross section =

pD 2 )
4

By filling in the data, the following is obtained (pay attention to the units):
0.006 =

(0.045 0.016)
A

Calculating the above gives the following: A = 0.12 mm2

4.

The equation which gives the relationship between the resistance and the
temperature is used:
Rw = Rc (1 + (tw - tc)
By filling in the data, the following is obtained:
Rw = 20 * { 1 + 0.0085 * (50 - 15)} = 25.95

5.

The equation which gives the relationship between the resistance and the
temperature is used again:
Rw = Rc (1 + (tw - tc)
By filling in the data, the following is obtained:
98000 = 100000 * { 1 + * (60 - 20)}
After calculating the above the following is obtained for the temperature
coefficient of carbon: = -0.5 10-4 1/K

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6.

Expressed as an equation, the electrical resistance is as follows:

R=

( 1 ??
A

By filling in the data, the following is obtained (pay attention to the units):
(1 0.5)
500 =
0.25 3.14 0.15 2
7.

Calculating the above gives a length of 1766 cm.

To do this, the resistance of the whole line must be calculated first:
Rline = 1 *

Rline = 200 *

Rline =

3.5
2.5

0.0175
2.5

= 1.4

Then the voltage loss in the line has to be calculated:

Vline = I * Rline
Vline = 7 * 1.4 = 9.8 V
The terminal voltage of the motor can be calculated from:
Vterminal = Vmains - Vline
Vterminal = 220 - 9.8 = 210.2 V

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