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Chapter 4

- Resistors and Prelude to Designing

Complex Electronic Systems

With the principles of electrical circuits, namely Kirchoffs law, laid out. We are now ready
to examine resistors and its various forms in more detail in this chapter.
Combining Resistance

As discussed earlier, if there are more than one electrical device connected to a circuit, they
can be combined in a series or parallel manner (or a mixture of both if there are more than
Of course Kirchhoffs law can be applied to study the current and voltage of the circuit, but
it can get tedious after a while so we will like to simplify the treatment.
A way to do this is to combine multiple resistors into a single resistor with an effective
resistance. This can be done with both series and parallel connection of resistors as follows:
For resistors connected in series, the effective resistance is the sum of individual
resistance of each circuit where

For series connected in parallel, the reciprocal of the effective resistance is the sum
of the reciprocal of individual resistors where

We will look at a simple example to illustrate:

Example Three resistors of 1, 2 and 3 are connected in series and parallel as shown:

Find the effective resistive of the series and parallel connection.

For the series connection find the effective resistance is straight-forward, just add them up:



For the parallel connection, the calculation is a little harder:



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- 0.545

For a more complicated connection of more than two resistors, they can be simplified by
combining series and parallel resistors together in a systematically multiple times.
There are situations of course where this does not work. If the resistors in an electrical
circuit cannot be combined, Kirchhoffs law then have to be used to analyse the circuit such
as the following resistor connection:

We will not be dealing with such exotic connections here.

Also note that even though in combining resistors the electrical circuit will significantly
simplify the circuit, some details are lost in the combination.
For series combination; it does not tell us what the voltage across each resistor are.
For parallel combination; it does not tell us what the current flowing across each
resistor are.
Fortunately this lost in detail can be easily overcome by reversing the combination as
demonstrated by the following example:
Example Three resistors are connected to 6.02 battery as shown:

Find the current flowing through and voltage across each resistors.
The total current flowing through the circuit is given to be 3 which splits into two through
flowing through and with 3 and 3 respectively. By Kirchhoffs 1 law, 3 3 3 .
As and can be combined together to obtain as follows:



1 1
6 3

The entire circuit can be simplified as follows:


1st Simplification

Now since and are connected in series, they can be combined easily once again by
simply adding them up giving :


So the circuit can once again be simplified as shown:

2nd Simplification

The total current 3 can be found easily by using the formula 3



Now we have found the total current 3 , we will have to consider the resistors of the circuits
before the combination is perform to find the current and voltage of other resistors,
effectively reversing the combination.
According to the 1 simplification, the current flowing through and is 1.29, so their
respective voltages 2 and 2 are:

3 :
1.29 : 3



3 : 5
1.29 : 2

Going back to the original circuit, we see that since and are connected in parallel,
they will have the same voltage of 2.49, so to find the current flowing through:



So we have found the current and voltage of each resistor by combining resistors
summarised as follows:
Voltage (2)
Current (9)



Of course Kirchhoffs law can be applied by considering loops, but that will make the
calculations a lot more tedious. Feel free to try it out yourself!
Voltage Dividers

Consider a circuit where two resistors are connected in series along with an electrical
supply with EMF of < (this supply is also commonly referred to as an input voltage):

According to Kirchhoffs 2nd law, voltage will be distributed among them such that the sum
of their voltages of will equal to < where 2 2 <. Such a setup results in a voltage
divider, where the voltage is divided between
and .
But how will the voltage be distributed out between the two resistors? By combining their
resistance and finding the current flowing through them, it can be shown that:



In other words, the resistors will divide out the supplied EMF by the ratio of its resistance
to the total resistance, where,

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This also applies to a series connection of more than two resistors, or a more complex
resistor network that involves parallel connection which can be simplified into a series
This formula allows us to find the potential difference across each resistors connected in
series directly without finding the current flowing through them.
The resistors in a voltage divider setup can be thought of as hungry people competing with
each other for a fixed amount of food, where the hungriness level is represented by its
resistance. The hungrier the person, the more food (voltage) he will consume, which results
in a less food for the other person.
Voltage dividers can be used as a voltage controller and they play important roles in the
design of temperature and light sensor which we will study later.
Variable Resistors, Thermistors and Light-Dependent Resistors (LDR)

So far in our study of resistors, we are assuming their resistance is fixed which will never
change. Of course not all resistors have fixed resistance and we will now extend our study
of resistors have resistance that can be changed.
The simplest such a resistor is called a variable resistors one where we can easily adjust its
resistance by hand via a handle or a knob. Variable resistors have a range of resistance
values that be easily adjusted to. It has the following symbol in +the circuit diagram:

Basically just add a diagonal arrow to the typical resistor symbol to make it a variable
Another form of resistor that has no fixed resistance is the thermistor, with its resistance is
affected by its surrounding temperature.

How a thermistor is responds to temperature depends on its construction. How their

resistance are affected can be grouped into two forms, namely positive coefficient and
negative coefficient.

Positive coefficient thermistors will have higher resistance while negative coefficient
thermistors have lower resistance when the surrounding temperature is raised.
The reason they are called positive and negative coefficient thermistors is due to how their
graph looks like when resistance is plotted against temperature, called the thermistorcharacteristic graph. A positive coefficient thermistor has a positive gradient while
negative coefficient thermistor has a negative gradient:

Unfortunately there are usually no easy way to calculate the resistance of the thermistor by
a straight-forward equation. Their characteristic graphs are usually obtained empirically, by
measuring the resistances at various temperatures and plotting them out.

A very similar device to the thermistor is the light-dependent resistor, or LDR for short, is
a resistor whose resistance depends not on surrounding temperature but its surrounding light
brightness. Its electronic symbol is as shown:

LDR is made of semi-conducting materials, and it has lower resistance when it is exposed
to more light. Hence unlike thermistors, LDR comes only with the negative coefficient
flavour. Its resistance values at different light brightness levels are usually plotted out in a
LDR characteristic graph and generally looks like this:

Where the light brightness level is usually measured in lux. Once again, just like with the
thermistor, there is no straight-forward equation to calculate the resistance at any given
light level and the graph is usually obtain empirically.
Application: Temperature and Light Sensors

As the resistance of thermistors and LDRs responds to its surrounding condition, namely
temperature and light, they can be used as sensors.
Combining thermistor or LDRs with a fixed resistor in series allows us to build a voltage
divider that divides the supplied accordingly to the surrounding condition creating a
temperature sensor as shown below:

For light sensors, the thermistor is replaced by the LDR.

The 2 on the left is just the supplied voltage via a power source, called the input voltage,
while 2 is the voltage divided that will respond accordingly to either temperature or
light, called the output voltage.
A switching device then can be connected to this sensor that is designed to read the output
voltage and respond to it accordingly.
For example, a temperature sensor is used in air-conditioners to regulate room temperature.
When the temperature in the room rises above a threshold temperature usually set by the
user, it will trigger on the air-conditioning unit to cool the room. While if the temperature
is lower than the temperature set, the air-conditioning unit will be switched off, leaving the
room to warm up.
This is the reason why sometimes the air-conditioner is heard running and sometimes it is
not. The temperature sensor not only prevents the rooms temperature from being too cold,
and also to conserve power.
The temperature/light sensor serves an important role as it illustrates that electrical circuits
not only can transmit energy as considered before, it can also transmit information. For
temperature/light sensors, it transmits the information about temperature and light to the
switch it is connected to.

Designing Complex Electronic Systems: Block Diagrams

The design of the temperature/light sensor by thermistor and LDRs provides another
fundamental basis in electronics design.
We can add into the complexity of electrical circuit design by allowing it to not only
transmit energy, it can also transmit information and respond to it accordingly. That is what
modern computers do, manipulating information that is fed into it.
Usually the term electronic circuit refers to a circuit that transmits information, while
electrical circuits refers to a circuit that transmit energy in more specialized applications.
To design a complex system, this is usually done by the use of block diagrams, which
breaks the complex system into simpler subsystems represented by blocks and arrows joined
between them to represent the exchange of information and energy.
Sometimes it is more convenient to use electronic symbols are devices in a block diagram
when they themselves are considered a subsystem.
A simple light sensor connected to a bulb that switches on when the room is dark will have
the following block diagram:

Where the design of the light sensor is examined earlier in Electromagnetism.

Block diagrams are used extensively by engineers in the design of complex systems as it
allows them to break it down, focus on each individual subsystems which is far more
manageable, and understand the entire system better.
Block diagrams usage is not limited to electronic systems, it also applies to other types of
systems such as mechanical and software, and systems that combines those types.