The electrical resistance of an object is a measure of its opposition to the flow of electric current. The inverse quantity is electrical conductance, and is the ease with which an electric current passes. Electrical resistance shares some conceptual parallels with the notion of mechanical friction. The SI unit of electrical resistance is the ohm (Ω), while electrical conductance is measured in siemens (S).
The resistance of an object depends in large part on the material it is made of—objects made of electrical insulators like rubber tend to have very high resistance and low conductivity, while objects made of electrical conductors like metals tend to have very low resistance and high conductivity. This material dependence is quantified by resistivity or conductivity. However, resistance and conductance are extensive rather than bulk properties, meaning that they also depend on the size and shape of an object. For example, a wire's resistance is higher if it is long and thin, and lower if it is short and thick. All objects show some resistance, except for superconductors, which have a resistance of zero.
The resistance (R) of an object is defined as the ratio of voltage across it (V) to current through it (I), while the conductance (G) is the inverse:
For a wide variety of materials and conditions, V and I are directly proportional to each other, and therefore R and G are constants (although they will depend on the size and shape of the object, the material it is made of, and other factors like temperature or strain). This proportionality is called Ohm's law, and materials that satisfy it are called ohmic materials.
In other cases, such as a transformer, diode or battery, V and I are not directly proportional. The ratio V/I is sometimes still useful, and is referred to as a "chordal resistance" or "static resistance",^{[1]}^{[2]} since it corresponds to the inverse slope of a chord between the origin and an I–V curve. In other situations, the derivative may be most useful; this is called the "differential resistance".
In the hydraulic analogy, current flowing through a wire (or resistor) is like water flowing through a pipe, and the voltage drop across the wire is like the pressure drop that pushes water through the pipe. Conductance is proportional to how much flow occurs for a given pressure, and resistance is proportional to how much pressure is required to achieve a given flow. (Conductance and resistance are reciprocals.)
The voltage drop (i.e., difference between voltages on one side of the resistor and the other), not the voltage itself, provides the driving force pushing current through a resistor. In hydraulics, it is similar: The pressure difference between two sides of a pipe, not the pressure itself, determines the flow through it. For example, there may be a large water pressure above the pipe, which tries to push water down through the pipe. But there may be an equally large water pressure below the pipe, which tries to push water back up through the pipe. If these pressures are equal, no water flows. (In the image at right, the water pressure below the pipe is zero.)
The resistance and conductance of a wire, resistor, or other element is mostly determined by two properties:
Geometry is important because it is more difficult to push water through a long, narrow pipe than a wide, short pipe. In the same way, a long, thin copper wire has higher resistance (lower conductance) than a short, thick copper wire.
Materials are important as well. A pipe filled with hair restricts the flow of water more than a clean pipe of the same shape and size. Similarly, electrons can flow freely and easily through a copper wire, but cannot flow as easily through a steel wire of the same shape and size, and they essentially cannot flow at all through an insulator like rubber, regardless of its shape. The difference between copper, steel, and rubber is related to their microscopic structure and electron configuration, and is quantified by a property called resistivity.
In addition to geometry and material, there are various other factors that influence resistance and conductance, such as temperature; see below.
Substances in which electricity can flow are called conductors. A piece of conducting material of a particular resistance meant for use in a circuit is called a resistor. Conductors are made of high-conductivity materials such as metals, in particular copper and aluminium. Resistors, on the other hand, are made of a wide variety of materials depending on factors such as the desired resistance, amount of energy that it needs to dissipate, precision, and costs.
For many materials, the current I through the material is proportional to the voltage V applied across it:
over a wide range of voltages and currents. Therefore, the resistance and conductance of objects or electronic components made of these materials is constant. This relationship is called Ohm's law, and materials which obey it are called ohmic materials. Examples of ohmic components are wires and resistors. The current-voltage (IV) graph of an ohmic device consists of a straight line through the origin with positive slope.
Other components and materials used in electronics do not obey Ohm's law; the current is not proportional to the voltage, so the resistance varies with the voltage and current through them. These are called nonlinear or nonohmic. Examples include diodes and fluorescent lamps. The IV curve of a nonohmic device is a curved line.
The resistance of a given object depends primarily on two factors: What material it is made of, and its shape. For a given material, the resistance is inversely proportional to the cross-sectional area; for example, a thick copper wire has lower resistance than an otherwise-identical thin copper wire. Also, for a given material, the resistance is proportional to the length; for example, a long copper wire has higher resistance than an otherwise-identical short copper wire. The resistance R and conductance G of a conductor of uniform cross section, therefore, can be computed as
where is the length of the conductor, measured in metres [m], A is the cross-sectional area of the conductor measured in square metres [m²], σ (sigma) is the electrical conductivity measured in siemens per meter (S·m^{−1}), and ρ (rho) is the electrical resistivity (also called specific electrical resistance) of the material, measured in ohm-metres (Ω·m). The resistivity and conductivity are proportionality constants, and therefore depend only on the material the wire is made of, not the geometry of the wire. Resistivity and conductivity are reciprocals: . Resistivity is a measure of the material's ability to oppose electric current.
This formula is not exact, as it assumes the current density is totally uniform in the conductor, which is not always true in practical situations. However, this formula still provides a good approximation for long thin conductors such as wires.
Another situation for which this formula is not exact is with alternating current (AC), because the skin effect inhibits current flow near the center of the conductor. For this reason, the geometrical cross-section is different from the effective cross-section in which current actually flows, so resistance is higher than expected. Similarly, if two conductors near each other carry AC current, their resistances increase due to the proximity effect. At commercial power frequency, these effects are significant for large conductors carrying large currents, such as busbars in an electrical substation,^{[3]} or large power cables carrying more than a few hundred amperes.
The resistivity of different materials varies by an enormous amount: For example, the conductivity of teflon is about 10^{30} times lower than the conductivity of copper. Why is there such a difference? Loosely speaking, a metal has large numbers of "delocalized" electrons that are not stuck in any one place, but free to move across large distances, whereas in an insulator (like teflon), each electron is tightly bound to a single molecule, and a great force is required to pull it away. Semiconductors lie between these two extremes. More details can be found in the article: Electrical resistivity and conductivity. For the case of electrolyte solutions, see the article: Conductivity (electrolytic).
Resistivity varies with temperature. In semiconductors, resistivity also changes when exposed to light. See below.
An instrument for measuring resistance is called an ohmmeter. Simple ohmmeters cannot measure low resistances accurately because the resistance of their measuring leads causes a voltage drop that interferes with the measurement, so more accurate devices use four-terminal sensing.
Component | Resistance (Ω) |
---|---|
1 meter of copper wire with 1 mm diameter | 0.02^{[4]} |
1 km overhead power line (typical) | 0.03^{[5]} |
AA battery (typical internal resistance) | 0.1^{[6]} |
Incandescent light bulb filament (typical) | 200–1000^{[7]} |
Human body | 1000 to 100,000^{[8]} |
Many electrical elements, such as diodes and batteries do not satisfy Ohm's law. These are called non-ohmic or non-linear, and their I–V curves are not straight lines through the origin.
Resistance and conductance can still be defined for non-ohmic elements. However, unlike ohmic resistance, non-linear resistance is not constant but varies with the voltage or current through the device; i.e., its operating point. There are two types of resistance:^{[1]}^{[2]}
When an alternating current flows through a circuit, the relation between current and voltage across a circuit element is characterized not only by the ratio of their magnitudes, but also the difference in their phases. For example, in an ideal resistor, the moment when the voltage reaches its maximum, the current also reaches its maximum (current and voltage are oscillating in phase). But for a capacitor or inductor, the maximum current flow occurs as the voltage passes through zero and vice versa (current and voltage are oscillating 90° out of phase, see image at right). Complex numbers are used to keep track of both the phase and magnitude of current and voltage:
where:
The impedance and admittance may be expressed as complex numbers that can be broken into real and imaginary parts:
where R and G are resistance and conductance respectively, X is reactance, and B is susceptance. For ideal resistors, Z and Y reduce to R and G respectively, but for AC networks containing capacitors and inductors, X and B are nonzero.
for AC circuits, just as for DC circuits.
Another complication of AC circuits is that the resistance and conductance can be frequency-dependent. One reason, mentioned above is the skin effect (and the related proximity effect). Another reason is that the resistivity itself may depend on frequency (see Drude model, deep-level traps, resonant frequency, Kramers–Kronig relations, etc.)
Resistors (and other elements with resistance) oppose the flow of electric current; therefore, electrical energy is required to push current through the resistance. This electrical energy is dissipated, heating the resistor in the process. This is called Joule heating (after James Prescott Joule), also called ohmic heating or resistive heating.
The dissipation of electrical energy is often undesired, particularly in the case of transmission losses in power lines. High voltage transmission helps reduce the losses by reducing the current for a given power.
On the other hand, Joule heating is sometimes useful, for example in electric stoves and other electric heaters (also called resistive heaters). As another example, incandescent lamps rely on Joule heating: the filament is heated to such a high temperature that it glows "white hot" with thermal radiation (also called incandescence).
The formula for Joule heating is:
where P is the power (energy per unit time) converted from electrical energy to thermal energy, R is the resistance, and I is the current through the resistor.
Near room temperature, the resistivity of metals typically increases as temperature is increased, while the resistivity of semiconductors typically decreases as temperature is increased. The resistivity of insulators and electrolytes may increase or decrease depending on the system. For the detailed behavior and explanation, see Electrical resistivity and conductivity.
As a consequence, the resistance of wires, resistors, and other components often change with temperature. This effect may be undesired, causing an electronic circuit to malfunction at extreme temperatures. In some cases, however, the effect is put to good use. When temperature-dependent resistance of a component is used purposefully, the component is called a resistance thermometer or thermistor. (A resistance thermometer is made of metal, usually platinum, while a thermistor is made of ceramic or polymer.)
Resistance thermometers and thermistors are generally used in two ways. First, they can be used as thermometers: By measuring the resistance, the temperature of the environment can be inferred. Second, they can be used in conjunction with Joule heating (also called self-heating): If a large current is running through the resistor, the resistor's temperature rises and therefore its resistance changes. Therefore, these components can be used in a circuit-protection role similar to fuses, or for feedback in circuits, or for many other purposes. In general, self-heating can turn a resistor into a nonlinear and hysteretic circuit element. For more details see Thermistor#Self-heating effects.
If the temperature T does not vary too much, a linear approximation is typically used:
where is called the temperature coefficient of resistance, is a fixed reference temperature (usually room temperature), and is the resistance at temperature . The parameter is an empirical parameter fitted from measurement data. Because the linear approximation is only an approximation, is different for different reference temperatures. For this reason it is usual to specify the temperature that was measured at with a suffix, such as , and the relationship only holds in a range of temperatures around the reference.^{[9]}
The temperature coefficient is typically +3×10^{−3} K^{−1} to +6×10^{−3} K^{−1} for metals near room temperature. It is usually negative for semiconductors and insulators, with highly variable magnitude.^{[10]}
Just as the resistance of a conductor depends upon temperature, the resistance of a conductor depends upon strain. By placing a conductor under tension (a form of stress that leads to strain in the form of stretching of the conductor), the length of the section of conductor under tension increases and its cross-sectional area decreases. Both these effects contribute to increasing the resistance of the strained section of conductor. Under compression (strain in the opposite direction), the resistance of the strained section of conductor decreases. See the discussion on strain gauges for details about devices constructed to take advantage of this effect.
Some resistors, particularly those made from semiconductors, exhibit photoconductivity, meaning that their resistance changes when light is shining on them. Therefore, they are called photoresistors (or light dependent resistors). These are a common type of light detector.
Superconductors are materials that have exactly zero resistance and infinite conductance, because they can have V=0 and I≠0. This also means there is no joule heating, or in other words no dissipation of electrical energy. Therefore, if superconductive wire is made into a closed loop, current flows around the loop forever. Superconductors require cooling to temperatures near 4 K with liquid helium for most metallic superconductors like niobium–tin alloys, or cooling to temperatures near 77K with liquid nitrogen for the expensive, brittle and delicate ceramic high temperature superconductors. Nevertheless, there are many technological applications of superconductivity, including superconducting magnets.
In electrical engineering, admittance is a measure of how easily a circuit or device will allow a current to flow. It is defined as the reciprocal of impedance. The SI unit of admittance is the siemens (symbol S); the older, synonymous unit is mho, and its symbol is ℧ (an upside-down uppercase omega Ω). Oliver Heaviside coined the term admittance in December 1887.
Admittance is defined as
where
Resistance is a measure of the opposition of a circuit to the flow of a steady current, while impedance takes into account not only the resistance but also dynamic effects (known as reactance). Likewise, admittance is not only a measure of the ease with which a steady current can flow, but also the dynamic effects of the material's susceptance to polarization:
where
Charge transport mechanismsCharge transport mechanisms are theoretical models that aim to quantitatively describe the electric current flow through a given medium.
Current–voltage characteristicA current–voltage characteristic or I–V curve (current–voltage curve) is a relationship, typically represented as a chart or graph, between the electric current through a circuit, device, or material, and the corresponding voltage, or potential difference across it.
Electrical impedanceElectrical impedance is the measure of the opposition that a circuit presents to a current when a voltage is applied. The term complex impedance may be used interchangeably.
Quantitatively, the impedance of a two-terminal circuit element is the ratio of the complex representation of a sinusoidal voltage between its terminals to the complex representation of the current flowing through it. In general, it depends upon the frequency of the sinusoidal voltage.
Impedance extends the concept of resistance to AC circuits, and possesses both magnitude and phase, unlike resistance, which has only magnitude. When a circuit is driven with direct current (DC), there is no distinction between impedance and resistance; the latter can be thought of as impedance with zero phase angle.
The notion of impedance is useful for performing AC analysis of electrical networks, because it allows relating sinusoidal voltages and currents by a simple linear law.
In multiple port networks, the two-terminal definition of impedance is inadequate, but the complex voltages at the ports and the currents flowing through them are still linearly related by the impedance matrix.Impedance is a complex number, with the same units as resistance, for which the SI unit is the ohm (Ω).
Its symbol is usually Z, and it may be represented by writing its magnitude and phase in the form |Z|∠θ. However, cartesian complex number representation is often more powerful for circuit analysis purposes.
The reciprocal of impedance is admittance, whose SI unit is the siemens, formerly called mho.
The class of instruments used to measure the electrical impedance is called impedance analyzer.
Electrical reactanceIn electrical and electronic systems, reactance is the opposition of a circuit element to a change in current or voltage, due to that element's inductance or capacitance. The notion of reactance is similar to electrical resistance, but it differs in several respects.
In phasor analysis, reactance is used to compute amplitude and phase changes of sinusoidal alternating current going through a circuit element. It is denoted by the symbol . An ideal resistor has zero reactance, whereas ideal inductors and capacitors have zero resistance – that is, respond to current only by reactance. The magnitude of the reactance of an inductor rises in proportion to a rise in frequency, while the magnitude of the reactance of a capacitor decreases in proportion to a rise in frequency. As frequency goes up, inductive reactance also goes up and capacitive reactance goes down.
Electrical resistivity and conductivityElectrical resistivity (also known as specific electrical resistance, or volume resistivity) is a fundamental property of a material that quantifies how strongly that material opposes the flow of electric current. A low resistivity indicates a material that readily allows the flow of electric current. Resistivity is commonly represented by the Greek letter ρ (rho). The SI unit of electrical resistivity is the ohm-metre (Ω⋅m). As an example, if a 1 m × 1 m × 1 m solid cube of material has sheet contacts on two opposite faces, and the resistance between these contacts is 1 Ω, then the resistivity of the material is 1 Ω⋅m.
Electrical conductivity or specific conductance is the reciprocal of electrical resistivity, and measures a material's ability to conduct an electric current. It is commonly represented by the Greek letter σ (sigma), but κ (kappa) (especially in electrical engineering) or γ (gamma) are also occasionally used. Its SI unit is siemens per metre (S/m).
Insulator (electricity)An electrical insulator is a material whose internal electric charges do not flow freely; very little electric current will flow through it under the influence of an electric field. This contrasts with other materials, semiconductors and conductors, which conduct electric current more easily. The property that distinguishes an insulator is its resistivity; insulators have higher resistivity than semiconductors or conductors.
A perfect insulator does not exist, because even insulators contain small numbers of mobile charges (charge carriers) which can carry current. In addition, all insulators become electrically conductive when a sufficiently large voltage is applied that the electric field tears electrons away from the atoms. This is known as the breakdown voltage of an insulator. Some materials such as glass, paper and Teflon, which have high resistivity, are very good electrical insulators. A much larger class of materials, even though they may have lower bulk resistivity, are still good enough to prevent significant current from flowing at normally used voltages, and thus are employed as insulation for electrical wiring and cables. Examples include rubber-like polymers and most plastics which can be thermoset or thermoplastic in nature.
Insulators are used in electrical equipment to support and separate electrical conductors without allowing current through themselves. An insulating material used in bulk to wrap electrical cables or other equipment is called insulation. The term insulator is also used more specifically to refer to insulating supports used to attach electric power distribution or transmission lines to utility poles and transmission towers. They support the weight of the suspended wires without allowing the current to flow through the tower to ground.
Internal resistanceA practical electrical power source which is a linear electric circuit may, according to Thévenin's theorem, be represented as an ideal voltage source in series with an impedance. This impedance is termed the internal resistance of the source. When the power source delivers current, the measured voltage output is lower than the no-load voltage; the difference is the voltage drop (the product of current and resistance) caused by the internal resistance. The concept of internal resistance applies to all kinds of electrical sources and is useful for analyzing many types of electrical circuits.
Kondo effectIn physics, the Kondo effect describes the scattering of conduction electrons in a metal due to magnetic impurities, resulting in a characteristic change in electrical resistivity with temperature.
The effect was first described by Jun Kondo, who applied third-order perturbation theory to the problem to account for s-d electron scattering. Kondo's model predicted that the scattering rate of conduction electrons of the magnetic impurity should diverge as the temperature approaches 0 K. Extended to a lattice of magnetic impurities, the Kondo effect likely explains the formation of heavy fermions and Kondo insulators in intermetallic compounds, especially those involving rare earth elements like cerium, praseodymium, and ytterbium, and actinide elements like uranium. The Kondo effect has also been observed in quantum dot systems.
Nature's 10Nature's 10 is the annual list of ten "people who mattered" in science, produced by the scientific journal Nature. The ten people may have made a significant impact in science either for good or for bad. Reporters and editorial staff at Nature judge people in the list to have had "a significant impact on the world, or their position in the world may have had an important impact on science". Short biographical profiles describe the people behind some of the year's most important discoveries and events. Alongside the ten, five "ones to watch" for the following year are also listed.
Ohm's law
Ohm's law states that the current through a conductor between two points is directly proportional to the voltage across the two points. Introducing the constant of proportionality, the resistance, one arrives at the usual mathematical equation that describes this relationship:
where I is the current through the conductor in units of amperes, V is the voltage measured across the conductor in units of volts, and R is the resistance of the conductor in units of ohms. More specifically, Ohm's law states that the R in this relation is constant, independent of the current. Ohm's law is an empirical relation which accurately describes the conductivity of the vast majority of electrically conductive materials over many orders of magnitude of current. However some materials do not obey Ohm's law, these are called non-ohmic.
The law was named after the German physicist Georg Ohm, who, in a treatise published in 1827, described measurements of applied voltage and current through simple electrical circuits containing various lengths of wire. Ohm explained his experimental results by a slightly more complex equation than the modern form above (see History).
In physics, the term Ohm's law is also used to refer to various generalizations of the law; for example the vector form of the law used in electromagnetics and material science:
where J is the current density at a given location in a resistive material, E is the electric field at that location, and σ (sigma) is a material-dependent parameter called the conductivity. This reformulation of Ohm's law is due to Gustav Kirchhoff.
OhmmeterAn ohmmeter is an electrical instrument that measures electrical resistance, the opposition to an electric current. Micro-ohmmeters (microhmmeter or microohmmeter) make low resistance measurements. Megohmmeters (also a trademarked device Megger) measure large values of resistance. The unit of measurement for resistance is ohms (Ω).
Residual-resistance ratioResidual-resistivity ratio (also known as Residual-resistance ratio or just RRR) is usually defined as the ratio of the resistivity of a material at room temperature and at 0 K. Of course, 0 K can never be reached in practice so some estimation is usually made. Since the RRR can vary quite strongly for a single material depending on the amount of impurities and other crystallographic defects, it serves as a rough index of the purity and overall quality of a sample. Since resistivity usually increases as defect prevalence increases, a large RRR is associated with a pure sample. RRR is also important for characterizing certain unusual low temperature states such as the Kondo effect and superconductivity. Note that since it is a unitless ratio there is no difference between a residual resistivity and residual-resistance ratio.
Sheet resistanceSheet resistance is a measure of resistance of thin films that are nominally uniform in thickness. It is commonly used to characterize materials made by semiconductor doping, metal deposition, resistive paste printing, and glass coating. Examples of these processes are: doped semiconductor regions (e.g., silicon or polysilicon), and the resistors that are screen printed onto the substrates of thick-film hybrid microcircuits.
The utility of sheet resistance as opposed to resistance or resistivity is that it is directly measured using a four-terminal sensing measurement (also known as a four-point probe measurement) or indirectly by using a non-contact eddy current based testing device. Sheet resistance is invariable under scaling of the film contact and therefore can be used to compare the electrical properties of devices that are significantly different in size.
Space clothSpace cloth is a hypothetical infinite plane of conductive material having a resistance of η ohms per square, where η is the Impedance of free space. η ≈ 376.7 ohms. If a transmission line composed of straight parallel perfect conductors in free space is terminated by space cloth that is normal to the transmission line then that transmission line is terminated by its characteristic impedance. The calculation of the characteristic impedance of a transmission line composed of straight, parallel good conductors may be replaced by the calculation of the D.C. resistance between electrodes placed on a two-dimensional resistive surface. This equivalence can be used in reverse to calculate the resistance between two conductors on a resistive sheet if the arrangement of the conductors is the same as the cross section of a transmission line of known impedance. For example, a pad surrounded by a guard ring on a printed circuit board (PCB) is similar to the cross section of a coaxial cable transmission line.
Spitzer resistivityThe Spitzer resistivity, or its opposite the Spitzer conductivity first formulated by Lyman Spitzer in 1950, is an equation showing the electrical resistance in a plasma decreases in proportion to the electron temperature as .
The Spitzer resistivity is a classical model of electrical resistivity commonly used in plasma physics, based upon electron-ion collisions. It is given by:
where is the ionization of nuclei, is the electron mass, is the electric permittivity of free space, is the Coulomb logarithm, is Boltzmann's constant, and is the temperature in kelvins.
TransconductanceTransconductance (for transfer conductance), also infrequently called mutual conductance, is the electrical characteristic relating the current through the output of a device to the voltage across the input of a device. Conductance is the reciprocal of resistance.
Transadmittance (or transfer admittance) is the AC equivalent of transconductance.
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