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Resistance Of A Wire Coursework

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The problem with using resistance as a measurement is that it depends not only on the material out of which the wire is made, but also the geometry of the wire. If we were to increase the length of wire, for example, the measured resistance would increase. Also, if we were to decrease the diameter of the wire, the measured resistance would increase. We want to define a property that describes a material's ability to transmit electrical current that is independent of the geometrical factors.

The quantity that is used is called resistivity and is usually indicated by the Greek symbol rho*, **.

In the case of the wire, resistivity is defined as the resistance in the wire, multiplied by the cross-sectional area of the wire, divided by the length of the wire. The units associated with resistivity are thus ohm.m (ohm - meters).

Resistivity is a fundamental parameter of the material making up the wire that describes how easily the wire can transmit an electrical current. High values of resistivity imply that the material making up the wire is very resistant to the flow of electricity. Low values of resistivity imply that the material making up the wire transmits electrical current very easily.


An electron travelling through the wires and loads of the external circuit encounters resistance. Resistance is the hindrance to the flow of charge. For an electron, the journey from terminal to terminal is not a direct route. Rather, it is a zigzag path which results from countless collisions with fixed atoms within the conducting material. The electrons encounter resistance - a hindrance to their movement. While the electric potential difference established between the two terminals encourages the movement of charge, it is resistance which discourages it. The rate at which charge flows from terminal to terminal is the result of the combined effect of these two quantities.

Variables Effecting Electrical Resistance

The flow of charge through wires is often compared to the flow of water through pipes. The resistance to the flow of charge in an electric circuit is analogous to the frictional effects between water and the pipe surfaces as well as the resistance offered by obstacles which are present in its path. It is this resistance which hinders the water flow and reduces both its flow rate and its drift speed. Like the resistance to water flow, the total amount of resistance to charge flow within a wire of an electric circuit is effected by some clearly identifiable variables.

First, the total length of the wires will effect the amount of resistance. The longer the wire, the more resistance that there will be. There is a direct relationship between the amount of resistance encountered by charge and the length of wire it must traverse. After all, if resistance occurs as the result of collisions between charge carriers and the atoms of the wire, then there is likely to be more collisions in a longer wire. More collisions means more resistance.

Second, the cross-sectional area of the wires will effect the amount of resistance. Wider wires have a greater cross-sectional area. Water will flow through a wider pipe at a higher rate than it will flow through a narrow pipe; this can be attributed to the lower amount of resistance which is present in the wider pipe. In the same manner, the wider the wire, the less resistance that there will be to the flow of electric charge. When all other variables are the same, charge will flow at higher rates through wider wires with greater cross-sectional areas than through thinner wires.

A third variable which is known to effect the resistance to charge flow is the material that a wire is made of. Not all materials are created equal in terms of their conductive ability. Some materials are better conductors than others and offer less resistance to the flow of charge. Silver is one of the best conductors, but is never used in wires of household circuits due to its cost. Copper and aluminum are among the least expensive materials with suitable conducting ability to permit their use in wires of household circuits. The conducting ability of a material is often indicated by its resistivity. The resistivity of a material is dependent upon the material's electronic structure and its temperature. For most (but not all) materials, resistivity increases with increasing temperature. The table below lists resistivity values for various materials at temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius.

Material Resistivity(Ohm*meter)

Copper 1.7 x 10-8

Nichrome 150 x 10-8

As seen in the table, there is a broad range of resistivity values for various materials. Those materials with lower resistivities offer less resistance to the flow of charge; they are better conductors. The materials shown in the last five rows of the above table have such high resistivity that they would not even be considered to be conductors.

There is another important property that can be measured in electrical systems. This is resistance, which is measured in units called ohms. Resistance is a term that describes the forces that oppose the flow of electron current in a conductor. All materials naturally contain some resistance to the flow of electron current. We have not found a way to make conductors that do not have some resistance.

If we use our water analogy to help picture resistance, think of a hose that is partially plugged with sand. The sand will slow the flow of water in the hose. We can say that the plugged



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