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AJC/ H1 & H2 Physics/JC1/2012

14. Current of Electricity

Electric Current
Potential Difference
Resistance and Resistivity
Sources of electromotive force
1. Candidates should be able to:
(a) show an understanding that electric current is the rate of flow of charged particles
(b) define charge and the coulomb
(c) recall and solve problems using the equation Q = It
1.1 Electric currents
There are many substances in which there are charged atomic particles that can wander freely
through the substance. In such a substance, electric charge can be transferred from one point to
another by general drift of the charged particles within it. Such a movement of electric charge is
called an electric current.
Electric current is used as the base electrical quantity.
1.2 Measurement of Current
Electric current is the rate of flow of electric charges through a given cross-section of the
For a steady current: I
For changing current: I = dQ / dt
Unit of electric current: Ampere (A)
Definition of Ampere
One ampere is the constant current which, if maintained in two straight parallel conductors of
infinite length placed at 1 metre apart in vaccum, would produce between these conductors a force
of 2 10
newton per metre of length.
1.3 Electric Charge
Since the choice of base electrical quantity is electric current, this quantity must be used in the
definition of all other electrical quantities. Charge is the first of these additional quantities which
have been defined.
The charge Q which flows past a point in time t if there is a constant current I, is given by the
Charge = current x time
Q = I x t since I = Q / t
Unit of charge: Coulomb (C).
Definition of Coulomb
One coulomb is the charge that in one second crosses a section of a circuit in which there is a
current of one ampere.
Note: Ampere is NOT defined as coulomb per second
If the current is not constant in a circuit then the charge which flows can be found by using the area
beneath the current-time graph. In calculus terms this can be written as

Q dt

Example 1a
Over a period of 8.0 s, the current in a component is reduced uniformly from 100 mA to 20 mA.
Calculate the charge that flows during this period of time.
Solution: Q = It = Iavet = [(100 + 20) 10
] (8.0) = 480 10
Example 1b
A current of 1.6 A is maintained in a wire. In 20 s, calculate how many electrons have passed
through the wires.
Solution:I = Q/t = nq/t n = It/q = 1.6 (20) / 1.6 10
= 2.0 10
Example 1c
The charge on an electron is 1.60 x 10
C. Calculate the number of electrons flowing in 1 C.
Solution: Q = ne
n =1/(1.60 10
= 6.24 10
This means an electric current of one ampere in a wire is a flow of 6.24 10
electrons per
second past any point in the wire.
1.4 Direction of Current
In metals, current is the movement of negative charge, i.e. electrons; in gases and conducting
liquids both positive and negative charges may be involved. Under the action of a battery, charges
of opposite sign move in opposite directions and so a convention for current direction has to be
Do You Know.
1.1 x 10
electrons have a mass of 1 kg. The world population just crossed the 6 x 10
1999. Compare these two numbers!
Each electron carry a definite amount of negative charges of 1.6 x 10
A proton has the same amount of charges except they are positive.
A coulomb of charges therefore contain 6.24x10
electrons or protons.
By agreement all current is assumed to be due to the motion of positive charges and when the
current arrows are marked on the circuits they are directed from the positive to the negative of the
supply. If the charge carriers are negative they move in the opposite direction to that of the arrow.
Example 1d: Discharge Tube Current in a Gas
(A discharge tube breaks air molecules into electrons and positive ions.)
In each second, 5.0 10
electrons and 2.0 10
protons pass a cross-section of the
discharge tube. Calculate the current flowing in the tube.
Hint: Total Current = Current due to proton flow (in one direction) + Current due to electron flow (in
the opposite direction),
Current due to proton flow is Ip = Qp / t & Qp = Nqp
= Np qp / t = (2.0 10
)(1.6 10
) / 1 = 0.32 A
Current due to electron flow Ie = Qe / t & Qe = Nqe
= Ne qe / t = (5.0 10
)(1.6 10
) / 1 = 0.80 A
Total current = 0.32 + 0.80 = 1.12 A = 1.1 A
1.5 Classification of Materials (accordingly to its electrical properties)
1.5.1 Conductors
Have free or mobile charges so that conduction of electricity is easy.
When there is no voltage source attached across it, these free charge carriers moved
about randomly within conductor with no net movement in any particular direction,
hence there is no current.
Under an applied electric field provided by a voltage source, the charge carriers will drift
in a given direction to constitute an electric current.
In solid conductors, electrons are the mobile charges that contribute to the current.
In liquids and gases, both mobile positively charged ions and mobile negatively charged
ions contribute to the current.
E.g. Metals, electrolytes.
1.5.2 Insulators
Have little or no charged particles that are free to move (ie charges are fixed, not mobile)
to conduct electricity even under an applied electric field.
1.5.3 Semiconductors
Have electrical conductivities of conductors and insulators under different temperature
Charge carriers are positive holes and negative electrons.
E.g. Silicon, Germanium (group IV elements)
1.6 Mechanism of Charge Flow
1.6.1 For Metal (group I, II & III elements)
- charge carriers are free electrons.
Metal atoms have one or two outer electrons that are in general loosely held and readily lost.
These so-called free electrons wander randomly through the metal crystal which consists of fixed
positive ions.
Before an Electric Field is Applied
There are as many electrons with a given speed moving in one direction as those moving with the
same speed in the opposite direction. Thus, there is no net flow of charge and so no current.
After an Electric Field is Applied
For example, when a battery is connected across the ends of the conductor, the electric field
causes the electrons to accelerate and gain kinetic energy. However, collisions occur between
accelerating electrons and the vibrating ion cores, causing the electrons to lose K.E. and slow
down. The electrons are again accelerated and the process is repeated. Although their movement
is erratic, on the average the electrons drift through the metal at slow speed. (The drift speed is
typically only a fraction of a millimetre per second.) This drift constitutes an electric current.
For a copper wire carrying a current of 1 A, drift speed is about 0.6 mm s
. Calculate the
time it takes an electron to travel 2 m? (Ans: about 1 hr)
Solution: Time = distance / speed = 2 / 0.6 10
= 3333 s 0.926 hr

This means that it takes electrons about half an hour to drift 1 m when a current of 1 A flows in
this wire.
Note that although the electrons drift through a wire at a low speed, this does not imply that it
will take a long time for the current to start at any point in a circuit. When a current is switched
on, the slow drift of the electrons commences virtually at all points around the circuit because
the electric forces that set them in motion are travelled round the circuit with great speed,
almost the speed of light.
Why does light come on almost instantaneously when we press the switch?
Solution: When a bulb is connected to a battery, an electric field is set up across the wire
immediately (almost at the speed of light). Thus the slow drift of electrons commences virtually
instantaneously at all point, ie. all the electrons will be drifted immediately in one direction.
Hence, the bulb lights up immediately.
1.6.2 For Pure (or intrinsic) semiconductors (Group IV elements)
There are different types of semiconductors: the Intrinsic (pure) and the Extrinsic (doped)
For the extrinsic (doped), there are 2 types: n-type and p-type.
You will learn more in the topic of Semiconductors in JC2 (for H2 physcis).
For Pure (or intrinsic) semiconductors (Group IV elements)
- Charge carriers are electron-hole pairs
Examples of Pure (or intrinsic) semiconductors: Silicon (Si), Germanium (Ge), Carbon (C).
The 4 valence electrons of each atom form 4 covalent bonds with 4 surrounding atoms in
tetrahedral shape.
At 0 K, all the valence electrons are firmly bound to the nucleus of their particular atoms - behaves
as an insulator.
At room temperature, the thermal energy of a valence electron may become greater than the
energy binding to its nucleus. The covalent bond is then broken. The electron leaves the atom X,
and becomes a free electron. This leaves X with a vacancy or hole. An electron in a
neighbouring atom Y may then be attracted. Thus the hole appears to move to Y.
If a battery is connected, the holes drift in the direction of the field and the free electrons drift in the
opposite direction. Thus charge carriers are free electrons and holes (in equal numbers).
Note: The current is usually small due to limited charge carriers, i.e. electron-hole pairs.
But as temperature increases, concentration of electron-hole pairs increases. Thus
conduction of current also increases.
2 Candidates should be able to:
(a) define potential difference and the volt
(b) recall and solve problems using V = W/Q
(c) recall and solve problems using P = VI, P = I
2.1 Potential Difference V
Just as water would flow from a higher level to a lower level, electric current flows from a point of
higher potential in an electrical circuit to a point of lower potential.
An electrical potential difference must exist between two points of conductors to cause a

The greater the pressure difference between ends of a water pipe, the more water flows though
each second. Similarly for current flowing through a circuit, the larger the potential difference, the
larger is the current.
*Video demonstration 1 on potential difference: flow of water (GPE) vs flow of current (EPE)*
2.2 Definition of Potential Difference V
The potential difference between 2 points is equal to the amount of electrical energy which is
converted to other forms of energy per unit charge that passes from the point at higher potential to
the point at lower potential.
S.I. unit of potential difference: Volt (V)
2.3 Definition of Volt
One volt is the potential difference between two points in a circuit when 1 joule of electrical energy
is dissipated into other forms of energy as 1 coulomb of charge passes from one point to the other.
i.e. Volt is the shorthand form of joule per coulomb.
Because the unit of potential difference is the volt, potential difference is frequently called the
voltage. The abbreviation p.d. is also frequently used.

energy converted W
charge Q
2.4 Alternative Definition of Potential Difference V
If Q is in the form of a steady current I flowing for time t, then Q = It
and W = QV = ItV or W / t = IV
P = IV
or V = P / I
Thus, potential difference V between two points can also be defined as the power dissipated (or
rate of conversion of electrical energy to other forms of energy) per unit current between the
2.5 Alternative Definition of Volt
One volt is the potential difference between two points in a circuit when 1 W of power is dissipated
as 1 A of current flows.
The following two equations are entirely equivalent.

energy converted W
Potential difference
charge Q
power converted P
Potential difference
1 volt is 1 joule per coulomb or 1 watt per ampere.
Example 2a
A light bulb is marked 3.5V, 0.1A. Calculate the power dissipated in the bulb when the potential
difference across it is 3.5V.
Solution: P = IV = 3.5 (0.1) = 0.35 W
3 Candidates should be able to:
(a) define resistance and ohm
(b) recall and solve problems using V = IR
(c) sketch and explain the I-V characteristics of a metallic conductor at constant
temperature, a semiconductor diode and a filament lamp
(d) sketch the temperature characteristic of a thermistor
(e) state Ohm's law
(f) recall and solve problems using R = l/A
3.1 Resistance
When a potential difference is applied across a conductor, (eg. battery is connected across a
conductor), the mobile charge carriers in the conductor gradually move towards one end of the
conductor. As the charge carriers drift towards one end, they continuously collide with one another
and with the atoms in the conductors. Hence, both the other mobile charge carriers and atoms of
conductors crystal lattice oppose the flow of the charge carriers. As such we say that the
conductor provides resistance to the flow of mobile charge carriers.
Definition of Resistance R
The resistance R, of a conductor is defined as the ratio of the potential difference across it to the
current flowing through it.
Unit of Resistance: ohm ()
Definition of Ohm
The ohm is the resistance of a conductor in which the current is 1 ampere when a potential
difference of 1 volt is applied across it.
Fixed resistor:
Variable resistor:
3.2 Current-Voltage Relationship for Various Conductors

P: rheostat
A: ammeter
V: voltmeter
Q: a particular conductor
By adjusting rheostat P, the p.d. V across the conductor is varied. The current I is measured by
the ammeter.
A graph of I against V is plotted. This graph shows the relationship between these two quantities
and is called the characteristic graph of the component.
(a) Linear graph (Ohmic conductor)
The I-V graphs for the above 2 conductors are straight lines passing through the origin, it follows
that ratio of V / I (i.e. R) remains constant.

Electrolyte of
Cu electrodes
Conductors are Ohmic conductors
(b) Non-linear graph (Non-Ohmic Conductor)
(i) Semiconductor diodes
The I-V graph shows that the diode conducts in
one direction only. This direction, called the
forward direction, allows conduction much more
easily than in the reverse direction. In the reverse
direction, a diode has a very high resistance. This
one-way property makes it useful as a rectifier for
changing a.c. to d.c..
(ii) Filament lamps (e.g. tungsten)
The I-V graph becomes less steep as the current
increases from zero. The resistance of the
tungsten wire filament increases as the current
raises its temperature and makes it white hot.
*Video demonstration 4 on filament lamp*
(iii) Thermistors
These are made of semiconductors and the I-V
graph bends upwards, i.e. their resistance
decreases sharply as their temperature rises.
An example is the use of thermistors in fire alarms.
*Video demonstration 3 on thermistors*
For these conductors, R (i.e. ratio of V/I ) is not constant Non-ohmic conductors
Note: R = V/I (is a ratio) and R V / I
R is NOT the gradient of V-I graph.
3.3 Ohms Law
Ohms Law states that the current through a metallic conductor is directly proportional to the
potential difference between its ends provided that the physical conditions (such as temperature,
stress, etc) are constant .

const ant R
The resistance R (= V / I ) of a metallic conductor is constant under steady physical conditions
(e.g. temperature).
Filament lamp
~ mA
~ A
Do You Know.
The number density of free electrons (number of electrons per unit volume) is
constant for metals regardless of temperature.
Temperature and impurities increases the resistance of a metal conductor.
In semiconductor, resistance decreases with temperature.
3.4 Variation of Resistance with Temperature
(a) Metals
As temperature increases
(i) the no. of charge carriers (free electrons) per unit
volume change very slightly.
(ii) the amplitude of vibration of atomic cores
Thus, free electrons make more frequent collisions with the
atoms and the mean drift speed of electrons decreases.
Latter effect of decrease in conductivity resulting from
increased thermal vibration is greater than increase in
conductivity due to more charge carriers.
Overall effect: Resistance increases
(b) Semiconductors
As temperature increases
(i) the no. of charge carriers (positive holes and/or
negative electrons) per unit volume increases.
(ii) the amplitude of vibration of atomic cores also
increases, resulting in more frequent collisions with
the atoms, decreasing the mean drift speed of
The increase in conductivity due to more charge carriers is
more significant and overcomes the decrease in
conductivity due to increased thermal vibration.
Overall effect: Resistance decreases
R /
T /
- resistance at 0
R /
T /
3.5 Resistivity
Resistance of a given conductor at a given temperature depends on:
(i) length l,
(ii) cross-sectional area A,
(iii) material
*Video demonstration 5 on resistivity of a material*
From the demonstration, we learn that for a given material,
R l and R 1 / A R l / A
R = l / A
where is the property of the material of the conductor, called its resistivity.
Unit of Resistivity: m
The resistivity of a material is a property of the material and is numerically the resistance of a
sample of unit length and unit cross-section area, at a certain temperature.
Self-attempt Question: Derive the unit of using the equation R = l / A.

Resistor: object that possesses the property
Resistance: property that the object possesses
Resistivity: property of the material of object
It is possible to state the resistance of a particular piece of copper wire but it is not possible to state
the resistance of copper because it might be of any shape or size. Resistivity can be stated for
Below is a table of resistivity of some materials at 20
Resistivity is useful in comparing various materials on the basis of their ability to conduct electric
High resistivity poor conductors
Example 3a
Determine the resistance per kilometre R of MRT rail given that the cross-section area A of the live
rail is 50 cm
and the resistivity of steel is 1.0 10
Solution R = l / A = (1.0 10
) / (50 10
) = 2.0 10

Silver 1.6 10
Copper 1.7 10
Constantan 5.0 10
Germanium 0.6 m
Silicon 2 300 m
Glass 10
- 10
Polysterene 10
Do You Know.
P = IV gives the rate of production of ALL forms of energy
P = I
R or V
/R is the power dissipated across a circuit component with resistance R.
Brightness of a bulb depends on its power P, not just V, I or R individually.
3.6 Power supplied to a resistor
The power supplied to a resistor can be given by any of the following expressions:
P = V x I = IR x I = I
P = V x I = V x
= V
And the energy supplied will be given by
energy = VIt = I
Rt = V
t /R
The energy supplied to a resistor has a 100% conversion into heat. This is always the effect of a
resistor in a circuit, to convert electrical energy into heat energy. The process is irreversible.
*Video demonstration 2 on power dissipated across a resistor*
Example 3b
A light bulb is marked 3.5 V, 0.1 A. Calculate the power dissipated in the bulb when the potential
difference across it is 3.5 V.
Solution: P = IV = 3.5 (0.1) = 0.35 W
Example 3c
A 100 kW generator supplies power at a p.d of 10 kV through cables of total resistance 5 .
Calculate (i) the supply current and (ii) the power dissipated in the cables.
(i) Using P = I V 100 10
= I (10 10
I = 10 A
(ii) Power dissipated in cables, P = I
R = 10
5 = 500 W
4 Candidates should be able to:
(a) define e.m.f. in terms of the energy transferred by a source in driving unit charge round a
complete circuit
(b) distinguish between e.m.f. and p.d. in terms of energy considerations
(c) show an understanding of the effects of the internal resistance of a source of e.m.f. on
the terminal potential difference and output power
4.1 Sources of Electromotive force (e.m.f.), E
Inside a Battery
A battery moves positive charges from a place of low potential (ve terminal) to a place of high
potential (+ve terminal). This is working against the electric field. A battery therefore does work on
the positive charges and so energy must be changed within the battery. Chemical energy is
transferred into electrical energy.
In the External Circuit (i.e. outside a Battery)
When current flows in an external circuit, this stored electrical energy is
changed to other forms, for example, heat.
The battery drives charges round a complete circuit. A battery is said to
produce an electromotive force (e.m.f.).
Note: Electromotive force (e.m.f.) is NOT a force.
4.1.1 Definition of electromotive force E in terms of energy transfer
The electromotive force of any source of electrical energy is the energy (chemical, mechanical etc)
converted into electrical energy per unit charge supplied.

energy converted W
charge supplied Q


power generated P
SI unit: Volt (V)
The e.m.f. of a source is said to be one volt when it converts 1 joule of chemical, mechanical or
other form of energy into electrical energy when 1 coulomb of charge passes though it.
4.2 Use of energy considerations to distinguish between e.m.f. and p.d.
Though e.m.f. and p.d have the same units V, they are different.
e.m.f. is the transformation of other forms of energy to electrical energy per unit charge
delivered by the source.
p.d. is the dissipation of electrical energy to other forms of energy per unit charge.
Eg of e.m.f.:
Cell: chemical electrical
Solar cell: solar electrical
Dynamo: mechanical electrical
4.3 Internal Resistance r
In an open circuit with no current flow:
A high resistance voltmeter connected across a cell records the e.m.f. of the cell, ie V = E
In a closed circuit with current flow and external resistor R:
Voltmeter reading falls if the cell is now connected to an external circuit.
Voltmeter reading V is the terminal p.d. of the cell; V is also the p.d. across R.
V < E not all the energy supplied per coulomb by the cell (i.e. E) is changed in the external
circuit to other forms of energy (e.g. heat). This deficiency is due to the cell itself having some
A certain amount of electrical energy per coulomb is wasted in getting through the cell and so less
is available for the external circuit. The resistance of a cell is called its internal resistance, r.
The internal resistance can be treated like any other resistor connected in series with the source.
Then solving for current becomes easier.
From Conservation of Energy:
In symbols: E = VR + Vr where VR = IR & Vr = Ir
E = I (R + r)
This gives: I = E / (R + r) & VR = ER / (R + r) & Vr = Er / (R + r)
Vr It is a quantity which cannot be measured directly
It can be made very small if the current supplied by the cell is small.
Energy supplied per
coulomb by cell
Energy changed per coulomb
by total resistance in external
Energy wasted per
coulomb on internal
resistance of battery
= +
e.m.f. = p.d. across R + p.d. across r
cell terminals
If the current being supplied approaches zero, then the emf and the potential difference across the
circuit components approach to become equal. This gives rise to:
The e.m.f. E of a source (e.g. battery) is the p.d. V across its terminals as the current approaches
zero (or an open circuit).
Example 4a
A battery of e.m.f. 1.50 V has a terminal p.d. of 1.25 V when a resistor of 25 is joined to it.
Calculate (i) the current flowing, (ii) the internal resistance r and (iii) the terminal p.d. when a
resistor of 10 replaces the 25 resistor.
When the external resistor is 25 ,
(i) the current I flowing is I = V / R = 1.25 / 25 = 0.05 A
(ii) the p.d across the battery in the closed circuit = e.m.f p.d across internal resistance
VR = E Vr
IR = E Ir
internal resistance r = (E - V) / I = (1.50 1.25) / 0.05 = 5.0
(iii) When the external resistor is 10 ,
the current I flowing is I = E / (R + r) = 1.50 / (10 + 5) = 0.10 A
terminal p.d. VR = IR = 0.10 10 = 1.0 V
Or the p.d across the battery in the closed circuit = e.m.f p.d across internal resistance
VR = E Vr = E Ir = 1.50 (0.10)(5) = 1.0 V
4.4 Output Efficiency
The power supplied to the external resistance R (or the power dissipated by external resistance R)
= VR I =
+ + +
2 2
x( ) ( ) R
R r R r R r
The total electrical power supplied from power source (eg battery) (or the total electrical power
used in circuit)
= E I =
) r R (
r R
( E

Hence efficiency, = Power supplied to external resistance R / Total power supplied
) r R (
) r R (
) r R (


The efficiency of an electrical circuit cannot be equal to 1 unless the internal resistance of the
source is zero.
4.5 Maximum Power Theorem
For a given source of e.m.f., internal resistance r is constant, then power to the external resistance,
P, is a function of R.

R r
To find Pmax set dP / dR = 0
+ + +
dP E E E
( ) 2R( ) 0
dR R r R r (R r)

+ +
( )
R r (R r)
2R = R + r
P = max when R = r
Maximum Power Theorem states that maximum power is delivered to the load when the load
resistance R is equal to the source internal resistance r.

R r
and P = max when R = r
Pmax =
( ) r
r r 4r
Example 4b [J93/III/3 part]
A car battery of e.m.f. 12 V and internal resistance 0.014 delivers a current of 110 A when first
connected to the starter motor. Calculate (i) the resistance of the motor and (ii) the fraction of the
total power which is dissipated in the cell.
(i) Using E = I (R + r) where R is the resistance of the motor
12 = 110 (R + 0.014)
Resistance of motor, R = 0.0951 = 0.095
(ii) Fraction of total power dissipated in cell (ie due to internal resistance of cell)
= power dissipated in cell / total power supplied
= I
r / I E
= I

r / E
= (110) (0.014) / 12
= 0.12833 = 0.128
Reference books
Physics: A Textbook for Advanced level Students by Tom Duncan.
Physics by Robert Hutchings.
Electricity and Modern Physics by Bennet.
P / W
R /
R = r
Pls complete your LMS quiz & tutorial before school reopens =)
Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics (6th Edition) by Serway Jewett.
Physics: Principles with Applications (5th Edition) by D.C. Giancoli.
Prepared by Mdm Tay SG