Evan's Space

Wonders of Physics

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Simple electric circuit set up

This simple circuit involves a resistance wire on the meter rule and the use of jockey tapping at different length L on the resistance wire.

Note that this is not a potential divider. Rather this set up works like a variable resistor (rheostat) in the circuit. When the switch is closed (jockey NOT tapping on resistance wire), there is no current flowing as voltmeter (infinity resistance) is connected in series with the ammeter and the battery. Hence the voltmeter is showing the battery’s electromotive force (emf) of 3.0 V.

When the switch is closed and the jockey is tapped on the resistance wire on the ruler, the longer the L (length of resistance wire), the higher the resistance of the circuit, the higher the potential difference (voltmeter) across the resistance wire and the smaller the current through the ammeter. Hence the tapping of the jockey on the resistance wire is similar to adjusting the resistance on the variable resistor.

(If you are wondering why the voltmeter is not showing the emf of the battery when the jockey touches the resistance wire L, it is because in reality there is internal resistance in the battery or even in the connecting copper wire. For olevel theory we assume no internal battery resistance or resistance in copper wire or ammeter).


To learn how to set up the experiment, refer to the video below.

Both ammeter and voltmeter have two terminals, (positive and negative). The conventional current must flow into the positive terminal (+) of the meters and out of the negative terminal (-).  If the connection is the opposite, the needle will deflect below the zero marking. Refer to the video below.

Sometimes, the connection terminals on the voltmeter and ammeter are different. Likewise, different types of wire with different connection heads have to be used. Refer to the video to see how are they connected in general.

Click here for another set up of a simple electrical circuit to determine the unknown resistor.



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Finding unknown resistor R and setting up the electrical circuit

To find the unknown resistor R, the following apparatus are setup.

Unknown resistor

Refer to the video below for the setting up of the apparatus.

Why do you need a variable resistor (rheostat)?

  • Without the variable resistor, you will have only one set of current I and potential difference V readings. Using the formula R = V/I, you are able to find the unknown resistor. But this method is not so accurate.


  • Hence, to make it more accurate, we include a variable resistor to control the size of the current through the circuit. Thus having different readings of the potential difference V across the unknown resistor.
  • Instead of just one set of readings of I and V, we now have about 5 sets.
  • This allows us to plot a graph of V against I.
  • By finding the gradient of the best fit line, we are able to find the resistance more accurately. [gradient = V / I = R, hence the gradient of V-I graph represents resistance R]


For pure metallic conductor, like the fixed resistor R, it obeys the Ohm’s Law, hence it is an ohmic conductor.

From the graph, the current I flowing the conductor is directly proportional to potential difference V across the conductor, provided physical conditions like temperature remains constant. [the graph is a straight line with constant gradient, and passes through the origin]