ELECTRICITY 4: Circuit devices and how are they used? (e.g. thermistor and LDR)

Doc Brown's Physics Revision Notes

Suitable for GCSE/IGCSE Physics/Science courses or their equivalent

What is an LDR?

Describe a practical use of an LDR

What is a thermistor?

Describe a practical use a thermistor.


Introduction

Some components are designed to change resistance in response to changes in the environment e.g.

the resistance of an LDR varies with light intensity,

the resistance of a thermistor varies with temperature,

 and these properties used in sensing systems to monitor changes in the environment.

These kind of circuit component can be used to turn systems on and off, increase or decrease power to control the output depending on the ambient (surrounding) conditions.


Thermistor - temperature dependent resistor

 Circuit 42 shows how you can investigate the resistance of a thermistor.

The voltmeter is wired in parallel with the thermistor, the p.d. V is measured in volts (V).

The variable resistor allows you to vary the p.d. and current flow.

The ammeter, wired in series, gives you the current I reading in amps (A).

You must decide on the initial p.d. and see how the current varies.

You calculate the resistance of the thermistor from Ohm's Law equation: V = IR, so R = V/I

Somehow you need to vary the temperature of the thermistor resistor e.g. dipping it into a beaker of water of varying temperature, making sure the circuit is insulated from the water.

You can make measurements from 0 to 60oC by using ice and then warm-hot water and try to get measurements for every 5 or 10oC incremental rise in temperature.

You should find that the resistance falls with increase in temperature because a thermistor is a temperature dependent resistor.

The higher its temperature, the lower a thermistor's resistance (e.g. tens of ohms) and much higher at low temperatures (e.g. thousands of ohms).

High resistance in a cool environment and low resistance in a warm environment.

You can see this trend clearly in the resistance - temperature graph for a thermistor.

Thermistors can therefore respond to changes in temperature.

 Thermistors can act as temperature detectors and are used in thermostats, temperature sensors - cooling systems in car engines etc.

Circuit 32 shows in principle how to control a cooling fan in a room.

(real thermistor circuits are more complicated)

The fixed resistor and cooling fan are wired in parallel. This means they always have the same potential difference across them.

The p.d. of the power supply is shared out between the thermistor and the 'loop' consisting of the fixed resistor and fan wired in parallel.

The output component (fan) and the thermistor are wired in series.

(I've indicated this with blue arcs - not meant to be wires!)

The greater the component's resistance, the greater proportion of the p.d. it takes.

If the room gets hotter, the resistance of the thermistor decreases, so it takes a smaller shared of the p.d.

Therefore the p.d. across the fixed resistor and fan rises (V1 increases, V2 decreases).

The greater the p.d. across a the fan the faster it goes as the power output can increase (P = IV).

If the room cools, the thermistor's resistance increases and the process reverses and the fan slows down or stops.

 

Thermistors are used as temperature detectors e.g. electronic thermostats in heating and cooling systems in the home or electric kettles (relatively low temperatures), or in high temperature situations like a car engine.

 


LDR - light dependent resistor

Circuit 44 shows how you can investigate the resistance of an LDR in varying light conditions.

The voltmeter is wired in parallel with the LDR, the p.d. V is measured in volts (V).

The variable resistor allows you to vary the p.d. and current flow.

The ammeter, wired in series, gives you the current I reading in amps (A).

You must decide on the initial p.d. and see how the current varies.

You calculate the resistance of the thermistor from Ohm's Law equation: V = IR, so R = V/I

Somehow you need to vary the light intensity shining on the LDR resistor e.g. using a lamp working of variable resistor and taking a reading with a light meter as well as the p.d. and current readings.

An LDR is a light dependent resistor and you should find ....

the higher the light intensity, the lower an LDR's resistance.

i.e. high resistance in darkness and low resistance in bright light.

You can see this trend clearly in the resistance - temperature graph for an LDR.

Therefore an LDR can respond to changes in light intensity e.g. daylight/night time.

The circuit system will sense the presence of light

 LDR resistors are used automatic control of lights at night - outdoor lighting, burglar alarm circuits, light intensity meters.

Circuit 33 shows in principle how to control the output of a lamp bulb.

(real LDR circuits are more complicated)

In this case the 'active' component, the bulb, is wired in parallel with the LDR response resistor.

In this case the p.d. across the LDR and the lamp bulb are the same.

In dim light or darkness, the p.d. across the LDR and bulb is high because its resistance is high.

The greater the p.d. across the lamp the greater the power output, so the bulb lights up - glows more brightly as the surroundings get darker.

If the surroundings e.g. a room or a garden path gets brighter, the LDR's resistance decreases, the p.d. decreases, so the power output decreases and the lamp glows dimmer or 'goes out'.

As well as automatic night lights, an LDR can be used in a burglar alarm circuit.

A small and constant beam of light is shone on an LDR (it can be from an invisible infrared emitting LED). If the shadow (of the burglar) crosses the light beam, the intensity of light falling on the LDR is reduced. Therefore the resistance of the LDR is reduced and this triggers an alarm.

 


An LED emits light when a current flows through it in the forward direction.

You should know that there is an increasing use of LEDs for lighting, as they use a much smaller current than other forms of lighting.

They have a much greater efficiency in converting electrical energy into visible light.


  • Practical work to help develop your skills and understanding may have included the following:

    • investigating potential difference/current characteristics for LDRs and thermistors,

    • planning and carrying out an investigation to find the relationship between the resistance of thermistors and their temperature,

    • investigating the change of resistance of LDRs with light intensity.


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Electricity and magnetism revision notes index

1. Usefulness of electricity, safety, energy transfer, cost & power calculations, P = IV = I2R, E = Pt, E=IVt

2. Electrical circuits and how to draw them, circuit symbols, parallel circuits, series circuits explained

3. Ohm's Law, experimental investigations of resistance, I-V graphs, calculations V = IR, Q = It, E = QV

4. Circuit devices and how are they used? (e.g. thermistor and LDR), relevant graphs gcse physics revision

5. More on series and parallel circuits, circuit diagrams, measurements and calculations gcse physics revision

6. The 'National Grid' power supply, environmental issues, use of transformers gcse physics revision notes

7. Comparison of methods of generating electricity gcse physics revision notes (energy 6)

8. Static electricity and electric fields, uses and dangers of static electricity gcse physics revision notes

9. Magnetism - magnetic materials - temporary (induced) and permanent magnets - uses gcse physics revision

10. Electromagnetism, solenoid coils, uses of electromagnets  gcse physics revision notes

11. Motor effect of an electric current, electric motor, loudspeaker, Fleming's left-hand rule, F = BIL gcse physics

12. Generator effect, applications e.g. generators generating electricity and microphone gcse physics revision


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