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9: Current and Resistance

In this chapter, we study the electrical current through a material, where the electrical current is the rate of flow of charge. We also examine a characteristic of materials known as the resistance. Resistance is a measure of how much a material impedes the flow of charge, and it will be shown that the resistance depends on temperature. In general, a good conductor, such as copper, gold, or silver, has very low resistance. Some materials, called superconductors, have zero resistance at very low temperatures.

  • 9.0: Prelude to Current and Resistance
    High currents are required for the operation of electromagnets. Superconductors can be used to make electromagnets that are 10 times stronger than the strongest conventional electromagnets. These superconducting magnets are used in the construction of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) devices that can be used to make high-resolution images of the human body. Superconducting magnets have many other uses.
  • 9.1: Electrical Current
    The instantaneous electrical current, or simply the current I, is the rate at which charge flows. The direction of conventional current is taken as the direction in which positive charge moves. In a simple direct-current (DC) circuit, this will be from the positive terminal of the battery to the negative terminal. The SI unit for current is the ampere (the amp). Current consists of the flow of free charges, such as electrons, protons, and ions.
  • 9.2: Model of Conduction in Metals
    The current through a conductor depends mainly on the motion of free electrons. When an electrical field is applied to a conductor, the free electrons in a conductor do not move through a conductor at a constant speed and direction; instead, the motion is almost random due to collisions with atoms and other free electrons. Although the electrons move in a nearly random fashion, when an electrical field is applied, the overall velocity of the electrons can be defined in terms of a drift velocity.
  • 9.3: Resistivity and Resistance
    When a voltage source is connected to a conductor, it applies a potential difference V that creates an electrical field. The electrical field, in turn, exerts force on free charges, causing current. The amount of current depends not only on the magnitude of the voltage, but also on the characteristics of the material that the current is flowing through. The material can resist the flow of the charges, and the measure of how much a material resists the flow of charges is known as the resistivity.
  • 9.4: Ohm's Law
    Many materials exhibit a simple relationship among the values for these properties, known as Ohm’s law. Many other materials do not show this relationship, so despite being called Ohm’s law, it is not considered a law of nature, like Newton’s laws or the laws of thermodynamics. But it is very useful for calculations involving materials that do obey Ohm’s law.
  • 9.5: Electrical Energy and Power
    In an electric circuit, electrical energy is continuously converted into other forms of energy. For example, when a current flows in a conductor, electrical energy is converted into thermal energy within the conductor. The electrical field, supplied by the voltage source, accelerates the free electrons, increasing their kinetic energy for a short time. This increased kinetic energy is converted into thermal energy through collisions with the ions of the lattice structure of the conductor.
  • 9.6: Superconductors
    Transmission of electric power produces line losses. These line losses exist whether the power is generated from conventional power plants (using coal, oil, or gas), nuclear plants, solar plants, hydroelectric plants, or wind farms. These losses can be reduced, but not eliminated, by transmitting using a higher voltage. It would be wonderful if these line losses could be eliminated, but that would require transmission lines that have zero resistance.
  • 9.A: Current and Resistance (Answers)
  • 9.E: Current and Resistance (Exercises)
  • 9.S: Current and Resistance (Summary)