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# Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 1

Full Experiment: The Ballistic Galvanometer and
Damped Oscillations

Learning Outcomes (what skills you will acquire)

Having completed this experiment you will have
• Understood galvanometers and how they can be used to measure small
currents
• Built electrical circuits
• Understood the accuracy and precision to which current can be measured
• Investigated damped oscillations using a Ballistic Galvanometer

Accurate measurement of current and voltage in electrical circuits is key to the
development of experimental physics. At the heart of nearly all electrical and
electronic apparatus is a device which measures voltage or current. Often we are
trying to measure very small effects, so accurate measurements are crucial.

In this practical you will be using a galvanometer to measure extremely small
currents. You will learn how current and voltage are divided across different
components of a circuit.

Read the entire script; familiarise yourself with the learning outcomes and skills
required. If you are not confident in having acquired the skills you will be using
today, make use of the web resource where you can gain further practice. Write a
short paragraph in your lab book giving details about the experiment, its aims and a
brief outline of the theory behind the experiment.

Read sections 25.5 of Tipler (5
th
edition)
which describe potential and current
dividers.

If ( ) P G + is much larger than R, then
the total resistance of the galvanometer
part can be approximated to R. The
resistors Q and R form a potential
divider If Q is much larger than R, the
potential difference, V
R
is small. Write down an expression that gives V
R
in terms of E,
Q and R and evaluate the resistance Q required to produce a voltage drop V
R
of
4
5 10 V

× assuming that 5 · E V . [Hint: The resistance of the galvanometer/1Ω part
of the circuit is given by
( )
1 1 1
· +
+
Total
R R P G
.]
Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 2

The resistance R and the combination of P and G in
parallel with R act as a current divider, limiting the
current flowing through the galvanomet er.

By explicitly writing Ohm’s law for each leg of the
current divider, and using you expression for the voltage,
V
R
that you found above, show that the current flowing
through the combination of P and G is given by:

( )
( ) ( )( )
R
P G
V ER
I
P G R Q P G
+
· ·
+ + +
(1)
[1 Mark]
2.1 Experimental Preparation

The Galvanometer
If you look closely at an analogue ammeter
or voltmeter you will see that there the
deflection of the arm to give the reading is
controlled through a magnetic coil.

A galvanometer consists of a coil of wire
would around a plastic former. This is
suspended between the poles of a magnet.
When current is passed to the galvanometer
coil, it produces a magnetic field which
interacts with the field produced by the
permanent magnet. This torque, causes the
coil to rotate, and a pointer fixed to the coil
to move. The galvanometer you will be using
has a mirror attached to the coil, light is
reflected from the mirror onto the scale on
the front of the machine.

Identify the d.c. power supply E, the hand-held multimeter and the 1Ω resistor, R, on
the desk in front of you.

Identify the resistance boxes (labelled P, Q and S in the script). By turning the dials
on the resistance boxes, the resistance can be varied from a few ohms up-to several
thousand ohms.

Quickly check each of the resistance boxes – P, Q and S. What is the reported
accuracy of the resistance boxes? Measure the resistance of the boxes with the dials
set at 4 different values using the hand held multimeter. Do your measurements agree,
within error, with what the dials say? Make sure that you check that there are no
systematic errors over the entire range of the resistance boxes. What is the error on
the readings for the different scales? [1 Mark]
Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 3

In this experiment you will use the galvanometer as a voltmeter.

The resistance of the galvanometer is governed by the metallic coil. Typical values of
resistance of metallic coils are in the range of 1 to 1000Ω. This range is controlled by
the composition and amount of the coil material. Therefore, in order to use a
galvanometer as a sensitive voltmeter we will need to add a large resistance in series
with it. Recall from skills session 1 that the resistance of a voltmeter should be very
high.

YOU SHOULD HAVE REACHED THIS STAGE WITHIN 20mins

One of the principal reasons for using a galvanometer is their sensitivity to very small
currents. We will therefore need to limit the voltage that will be dropped across the
galvanometer, and hence the current that flows through it. To achieve this we
construct potential and current dividers.

The galvanometer with the resistance box P in series with it act as a voltmeter,
measuring the voltage drop across the 1Ω resistor, V
R
. The current that flows through
the galvanometer part of the circuit is supplied by this potential difference. V
R
small by dropping the source voltage E (approx 5V) across the potential divider Q and
R, with Q much larger than R.

The current flowing through the combination of P and G will induce a torque on the
galvanometer coil which in turn will deflect the light beam a distance d, the
magnitude of d being proportional to the current flow:

d I ∝ so we can write that d kI · (2)

What are the SI units of k? In what units should you record the deflection?

The constant of proportionality k is defined as the current sensitivity, and so from
equation (1) we can say that:

( ) ( )
E R
d k
P G R Q
·
+ +
(3)

Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 4
In this experimental configuration, setting P=1,000Ω and Q=10,000Ω should produce
a current flow of approximately
7
5 10

× A through the galvanometer which will
produce a torque displacing the beam on the galvanometer by a couple of centimetres.

4. Measurements: Finding the Internal Resistance of the Galvanometer

Equation (3) can be re-arranged into the following forms:

RE k
P G
R Q d
· +
+
OR
RE k
P G
R Q d
· −
+
(4)

The values of k and G can be found by varying P and recording the displacement of
the galvanometer beam.

Set the power supply to give 5V. Record its value and uncertainty in your lab book.

Construct the circuit below using the components you have already identified.

Initially set 1000 P · Ω and 10,000 Q · Ω . This should cause the beam to move by a
couple of centimetres. Reduce P and increase Q to keep the deflection on the scale.
Continue until P is zero and then adjust Q to give an almost full scale deflection.
Then keep Q fixed and make a note of its value and uncertainty in your lab book.

Now make a series of measurements of the deflection d as P is increased.

From equation (4), a plot of P against
1
d
will give a straight line with an intercept
of G. However, as it is P that we are varying (the dependent variable), this should be
plotted on the x axis. The straight line graph you should plot is
P G
d k k
β
· + (c.f.
y mx c · + ) where
RE
R Q
β ·
+
. Calculate β and its error, and use a spreadsheet to
generate the data in a form that will be suitable for plotting.

Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 5
[Hint: The % errors on R, E, Q are all approximately 1%. The error on R+Q is the
same as that of Q alone. Thus, we can approximate the error on β as being 3%]

Use Excel and Linest to find the slope and intercept of your graph. Make sure you
only use data for which the error bars are not too large in your least squares
calculation. Use these values to determine the current sensitivity k and the value of G.
What are the uncertainties in these measurements?
[2 Marks]

Carefully look at the back of the galvanometer, and you will see a
summary of its properties when it was tested some years ago. Do your
values for the resistance and current sensitivity agree, within error, with
the quoted values?

YOU SHOULD HAVE REACHED THIS STAGE WITHIN 1½ HOURS

The Torsion Pendulum and the Ballistic Galvanometer

Consider a disk suspended from a torsion wire attached to
its centre. This setup is known as a torsion pendulum. A
torsion wire is essentially inextensible, but is free to twist
about its axis. Of course, as the wire twists it also causes
the disk attached to it to rotate in the horizontal plane. Any
twisting of the wire is inevitably associated with
mechanical deformation of the wire which is resisted by
developing a restoring torque which acts to restore the
wire to its untwisted state. For small angles of twist, the
magnitude of this torque is directly proportional to the
twist angle – hence we have simple harmonic motion.

The ballistic galvanometer is a galvanometer adapted to measure charge as opposed
to current. It measures the charge flowing through the system during the passage of a
transient current and is based on the ideas behind the torsion pendulum.

If the period of oscillation is long in comparison with the transient current; the
electromagnetic pulse created in the coil acts as the impulse to start the coil
oscillating. The angular displacement, θ is directly related to the charge, Q. The
galvanometer you are using has been selected because the coil has a high moment of
inertia which results in a long oscillation period.

However, because of effects of air-resistance and other ‘resistive’ effects within the
coil, these oscillations will be damped, and the coil will eventually come to rest at the
equilibrium point.

Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 6
Measuring the Period of Oscillations

Rebuild your circuit so that the following is realised:

This time the potential divider P and S provides a voltage to charge a standard
capacitor, C. This capacitor can be discharged into the galvanometer using the Morse
key.

The amount of charge, Q, discharged is simply given by Q VC · with the voltage
dropped across the capacitor, V, given by the potential divider P and S. Thus we have
that the charge is given by:

( )
P
Q EC
P S
·
+
(5)
This instantaneous current (charge pulse) provides the impulse to set the
galvanometer into oscillations. The coil begins to swing, but because of damping it
will not reach its maximum deflection a
0
. Instead it is deflected to a
1
on the first
swing, a
2
on the second and so on at the following times:

1 2 3
3 5

4 4 4

T T T
t
d a a a
·
·
(6)

The amplitude of the swings is being damped by an exponential which, as a function
of time, t, has the following form:

( ) exp A t γ · − (7)
with γ the damping term. It follows then that the ratio of successive amplitudes is
related to the period of oscillation, T, and is given by:

( )
3 1 2
2 3 4
exp
2
a a a
T
a a a
γ
· · ⋅ ⋅ ⋅ · (8)
Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 7
where
( )
2
2
BAn
IX
γ · . B is the flux density of the magnetic field in which the coil
sits, A is the area of the coil and n is the number of turns of wire in the coil. T is the
period of the oscillations and X the total resistance of the galvanometer circuit.

The maximum deflection, which would be achieved in the absence of any damping, is
given by a
0
. It is found as follows (using equation (8)):

( ) ( )
1
2
0 1
1 2
exp exp
4 2
a a
T T
a a
γ γ 1
· · ·
1
¸ ]

1
0 1
2
a
a a
a
· (9)

The Charge sensitivity can be defined as the maximum amplitude divided by the
charge. Therefore from equation (5) we can write:

( )
0
0
P S
a
K a
Q ECP
+
· · OR
( )
0
ECP
a K
P S
·
+
(10)

Make ( ) P S + a simple multiple of E (say 1000 E × ) and keep it constant. Set the
capacitor to 0.5µF. For a range of values of P (keeping P+S fixed) measure the
deflections a
1
and a
2
. Use an excel spreadsheet to calculate a
0
and its error for each
value of P. From the graph of a
0
against P find the slope and its error and hence
obtain a value for K and its error. Compare your answer with the calibrated value on
the back of the galvanometer.

[Hint: The expression to calculate a
0
can be re-written as
3
2
1
2
1
0
2
a
a
a
· . The error on a
0

can therefore be expressed as:
0 1 2
2 2 2
0 1 2
9 1
4 4
a a a
a a a
α α α ¸ _ ¸ _ ¸ _
· +

¸ , ¸ , ¸ ,
. The oscillations can be
stopped by shorting the galvanometer by pressing the switch when the oscillation pass
the equilibrium point] [2 Marks]

What limits your precision K? Can you think of ways of

YOU SHOULD HAVE REACHED THIS STAGE WITHIN 2½ HOURS

Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 8
5. Exploration: Measuring the Period and relating k and K

It can be shown that the charge and current sensitivities are related through the period
of the galvanometer:
2
k
K
T
π · (11)

Use a stop-watch and measure the period of the galvanometer, and from it the ratio
2
T
π
. Compare this with your experimentally measured values of
K
k
.

If you have time:

In task 5 you found the charge sensitivity by varying P and measuring the deflection
of the galvanometer beam,
( )
0
ECP
a K
P S
·
+
. As an alternative, measure the charge
sensitivity by keeping P, S and E fixed and measuring a
0
as a function of capacitance,
C. Use the variable capacitor and investigate the deflection of the beam as C is varied
from 0.1 to 1µF. Do your two values of K agree?

6. To conclude

You will find information on galvanometers in Tipler, and most undergraduate text
books. Damped oscillations appeared as part of the Wave Phenomena course.

For your extended report – You should give a full account of the phenomena
described in this experiment. You should concentrate on providing more background
and that all error propagations are carefully explained. Compare your experimentally
determined values with those on the back of the galvanometer. Discuss any systematic
errors and describe any possible sources of error in your experiment and how you
could improve the precision of your measurements.

This is suspended between the poles of a magnet. A galvanometer consists of a coil of wire would around a plastic former.1 Experimental Preparation The Galvanometer If you look closely at an analogue ammeter or voltmeter you will see that there the deflection of the arm to give the reading is controlled through a magnetic coil. within error. light is reflected from the mirror onto the scale on the front of the machine. When current is passed to the galvanometer coil. Task 1: Quickly check each of the resistance boxes – P. the resistance can be varied from a few ohms up-to several thousand ohms. By turning the dials on the resistance boxes.c. Q and S. The galvanometer you will be using has a mirror attached to the coil. limiting the current flowing through the galvanomet er. Do your measurements agree. This torque.Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 2 The resistance R and the combination of P and G in parallel with R act as a current divider. on the desk in front of you. with what the dials say? Make sure that you check that there are no systematic errors over the entire range of the resistance boxes. Identify the resistance boxes (labelled P. causes the coil to rotate. What is the error on the readings for the different scales? [1 Mark] . it produces a magnetic field which interacts with the field produced by the permanent magnet. the hand-held multimeter and the 1Ω resistor. By explicitly writing Ohm’s law for each leg of the current divider. and a pointer fixed to the coil to move. and using you expression for the voltage. show that the current flowing through the combination of P and G is given by: I ( P+ G ) = VR ER = ( P + G ) ( R + Q )( P + G ) (1) [1 Mark] 2. Identify the d. VR that you found above. power supply E. What is the reported accuracy of the resistance boxes? Measure the resistance of the boxes with the dials set at 4 different values using the hand held multimeter. Q and S in the script). R.

measuring the voltage drop across the 1Ω resistor. To achieve this we construct potential and current dividers. The galvanometer with the resistance box P in series with it act as a voltmeter. VR is made small by dropping the source voltage E (approx 5V) across the potential divider Q and R. We will therefore need to limit the voltage that will be dropped across the galvanometer. with Q much larger than R. the magnitude of d being proportional to the current flow: d ∝ I so we can write that d = kI What are the SI units of k? In what units should you record the deflection? (2) The constant of proportionality k is defined as the current sensitivity. The current that flows through the galvanometer part of the circuit is supplied by this potential difference. and hence the current that flows through it. The resistance of the galvanometer is governed by the metallic coil. Typical values of resistance of metallic coils are in the range of 1 to 1000Ω. Ready to Start In this experiment you will use the galvanometer as a voltmeter. VR. Recall from skills session 1 that the resistance of a voltmeter should be very high. YOU SHOULD HAVE REACHED THIS STAGE WITHIN 20mins One of the principal reasons for using a galvanometer is their sensitivity to very small currents. and so from equation (1) we can say that: E R d =k (3) ( P + G ) (R + Q ) . This range is controlled by the composition and amount of the coil material. in order to use a galvanometer as a sensitive voltmeter we will need to add a large resistance in series with it. Therefore.Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 3 3. The current flowing through the combination of P and G will induce a torque on the galvanometer coil which in turn will deflect the light beam a distance d.

. Task 4: Set the power supply to give 5V. Calculate β and its error. setting P=1. Continue until P is zero and then adjust Q to give an almost full scale deflection. Construct the circuit below using the components you have already identified. a plot of P against 1 d will give a straight line with an intercept of G. However.000Ω and Q=10. This should cause the beam to move by a couple of centimetres. this should be β P G plotted on the x axis. Measurements: Finding the Internal Resistance of the Galvanometer Equation (3) can be re-arranged into the following forms: RE k = P +G R +Q d OR P= RE k −G R +Q d (4) The values of k and G can be found by varying P and recording the displacement of the galvanometer beam.Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 4 In this experimental configuration. d k k RE y = mx + c ) where β = . 4. Initially set P = 1000Ω and Q = 10. The straight line graph you should plot is = + (c. From equation (4).000Ω .f.000Ω should produce a current flow of approximately 5 × 10−7 A through the galvanometer which will produce a torque displacing the beam on the galvanometer by a couple of centimetres. and use a spreadsheet to R+ Q generate the data in a form that will be suitable for plotting. as it is P that we are varying (the dependent variable). Record its value and uncertainty in your lab book. Now make a series of measurements of the deflection d as P is increased. Then keep Q fixed and make a note of its value and uncertainty in your lab book. Reduce P and increase Q to keep the deflection on the scale.

Q. What are the uncertainties in these measurements? [2 Marks] Carefully look at the back of the galvanometer. Make sure you only use data for which the error bars are not too large in your least squares calculation. Any twisting of the wire is inevitably associated with mechanical deformation of the wire which is resisted by developing a restoring torque which acts to restore the wire to its untwisted state.Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 5 [Hint: The % errors on R. and you will see a summary of its properties when it was tested some years ago. the magnitude of this torque is directly proportional to the twist angle – hence we have simple harmonic motion. The error on R+Q is the same as that of Q alone. It measures the charge flowing through the system during the passage of a transient current and is based on the ideas behind the torsion pendulum. Thus. A torsion wire is essentially inextensible. Of course. within error. with the quoted values? YOU SHOULD HAVE REACHED THIS STAGE WITHIN 1½ HOURS The Torsion Pendulum and the Ballistic Galvanometer Consider a disk suspended from a torsion wire attached to its centre. If the period of oscillation is long in comparison with the transient current. and the coil will eventually come to rest at the equilibrium point. because of effects of air-resistance and other ‘resistive’ effects within the coil. However. The ballistic galvanometer is a galvanometer adapted to measure charge as opposed to current. but is free to twist about its axis. . we can approximate the error on β as being 3% ] Use Excel and Linest to find the slope and intercept of your graph. Use these values to determine the current sensitivity k and the value of G. θ is directly related to the charge. the electromagnetic pulse created in the coil acts as the impulse to start the coil oscillating. For small angles of twist. The angular displacement. Do your values for the resistance and current sensitivity agree. The galvanometer you are using has been selected because the coil has a high moment of inertia which results in a long oscillation period. This setup is known as a torsion pendulum. as the wire twists it also causes the disk attached to it to rotate in the horizontal plane. these oscillations will be damped. E. Q are all approximately 1%.

t. This capacitor can be discharged into the galvanometer using the Morse key. discharged is simply given by Q = VC with the voltage dropped across the capacitor. The coil begins to swing. Thus we have that the charge is given by: P Q = EC (5) (P + S) This instantaneous current (charge pulse) provides the impulse to set the galvanometer into oscillations. It follows then that the ratio of successive amplitudes is related to the period of oscillation.Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 6 Measuring the Period of Oscillations Rebuild your circuit so that the following is realised: This time the potential divider P and S provides a voltage to charge a standard capacitor. as a function of time. C. but because of damping it will not reach its maximum deflection a0 . Instead it is deflected to a1 on the first swing. Q. V. given by the potential divider P and S. T. and is given by: a1 a2 a3 = = ⋅ ⋅ ⋅ = exp γ T 2 a2 a3 a4 ( ) (8) . has the following form: A = exp ( −γ t ) (7) with γ the damping term. The amount of charge. a2 on the second and so on at the following times: t =T4 d = a1 3T a2 4 5T 4 (6) a3 The amplitude of the swings is being damped by an exponential which.

Use an excel spreadsheet to calculate a0 and its error for each value of P. From the graph of a0 against P find the slope and its error and hence obtain a value for K and its error. T is the period of the oscillations and X the total resistance of the galvanometer circuit. The maximum deflection. The oscillations can be 4  a1  4  a 2   a0  stopped by shorting the galvanometer by pressing the switch when the oscillation pass the equilibrium point] [2 Marks] What limits your precision K? Can you think of ways of improving your experiment? YOU SHOULD HAVE REACHED THIS STAGE WITHIN 2½ HOURS . is given by a0 . For a range of values of P (keeping P+S fixed) measure the deflections a1 and a2. B is the flux density of the magnetic field in which the coil 2 IX sits. which would be achieved in the absence of any damping. It is found as follows (using equation (8)): 2 a0 a = exp γ T 4 =  exp γ T 2  = 1   a1   a2 ( BAn ) = 2 ( ) ( ) 1 → a0 = a1 a1 a 2 (9) The Charge sensitivity can be defined as the maximum amplitude divided by the charge.5µF. [Hint: The expression to calculate a0 can be re-written as a0 = 2 2 2 a1 2 .Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 7 where γ . The error on a0 1 a22 3  αa  9  αa  1  α a  can therefore be expressed as:  0  =  1  +  2  . Therefore from equation (5) we can write: K= Task 5: a0 (P + S) = a0 Q ECP OR a0 = K ECP (P+ S ) (10) Make ( P + S ) a simple multiple of E (say 1000 × E ) and keep it constant. Set the capacitor to 0. A is the area of the coil and n is the number of turns of wire in the coil. Compare your answer with the calibrated value on the back of the galvanometer.

and that all error propagations are carefully explained.Full Experiment – The Galvanometer Page 8 5. Compare your experimentally determined values with those on the back of the galvanometer. Use the variable capacitor and investigate the deflection of the beam as C is varied from 0. You should concentrate on providing more background information about galvanometers. a0 = K . and from it the ratio 2π . Compare this with your experimentally measured values of K . Make sure that your graphs are presented clearly. Do your two values of K agree? 6. and most undergraduate text books. To conclude You will find information on galvanometers in Tipler. S and E fixed and measuring a0 as a function of capacitance. Exploration: Measuring the Period and relating k and K It can be shown that the charge and current sensitivities are related through the period of the galvanometer: k K = 2π (11) T Use a stop-watch and measure the period of the galvanometer. Damped oscillations appeared as part of the Wave Phenomena course.1 to 1µF. As an alternative. For your extended report – You should give a full account of the phenomena described in this experiment. measure the charge (P+ S ) sensitivity by keeping P. . T k If you have time: In task 5 you found the charge sensitivity by varying P and measuring the deflection ECP of the galvanometer beam. Discuss any systematic errors and describe any possible sources of error in your experiment and how you could improve the precision of your measurements. C.