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Small question, I see that resistors are labeled in certain increments (e.g 5, 10 50 Ohms), although a resistor outside of a circuit is completely without voltage and therefore current. Does this just mean the resistor has a certain value when placed in an average circuit?

Also, I thought that, according to Ohm's Law, resistance was a variable along with current and voltage. Is this not true? I mean, if I speed up electrons through an ioninc matrix, through an increased voltage and current, shouldn't the matrix push back harder as well making more resistance?

I'm thinking of an ice cube falling through molasses. If the ice cube speeds up (due to increased push i.e voltage) shouldn't the molasses push back more as well? And yet it seems that resistors have a constant value, what the heck.

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Interesting premise, poor title. – JYelton Jul 14 '14 at 22:19
"How are resistor values constant despite changing current and/or voltage?" – JYelton Jul 14 '14 at 22:22
You can't change the resistance in steady state. I feel like you might enjoy reading about the memristor if you are curious about this kind of theory – Funkyguy Jul 14 '14 at 22:31
You can rewrite your own molasses physics OR use the simplified models to help you as you get going OR learn "real" physics. No simple one line "law" describes what is believed to be an accurate model of anything. – Russell McMahon Jul 15 '14 at 0:47
... if you have never tried the following , try it. DO NOT LOOK THIS UP if you have not tried it. DO NOT. Just do it. THEN look it up :-). -> Get some "cornflour". A standard kitchen item. Put a few large spoonfuls in a cup and add enough water to make a wet but not runny paste. Now, stir it with a stick or your finger or something with a bit of cross section. stir it very slow/slow/medium/fast (if you can). | Here the resistance changes with pressure (Voltage) - but its the fluid not the resisting aspect that is changing. Very worth doing. – Russell McMahon Jul 16 '14 at 7:06

7 Answers 7

up vote 8 down vote accepted

When the resistance value is constant (doesn't depend on I or V), we call that a linear resistor.

Common resistive materials (such as metals, carbon, etc.) are reasonably linear to a first order approximation. There is no physical mechanism that strongly causes them to "push back more" when a greater voltage is applied.

If you look more carefully, you will usually find that as you increase the current through a real resistor it heats itself up, and this does cause the resistance to change. However we try to choose materials for our resistors where this effect is small. TCR (temperature coefficient of resistance) values on the order of 100 or 200 ppm/C are easily available.

A diode (in a dc circuit) is an example of what we call a nonlinear resistor. A resistor whose resistance depends on the current through it. However, these tend to resist less, the more current they are passing.

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High voltage resistors typically suffer from voltage coefficient to a measurable degree. These ones brag about being 'only' 0.5% change at working voltage (2500V):… – Spehro Pefhany Jul 14 '14 at 23:01
@SpehroPefhany, that kind of thing is why I weaseled around with "reasonably linear" and "to a first order approximation". – The Photon Jul 14 '14 at 23:17
Isn't a diode just as linear in first approximation? – Marcks Thomas Jul 15 '14 at 10:03
Hmm. I was just wondering, because it seems like electrons falling through metal is similar in circumstance to a skydiver falling through air. Since the 'pushback' of air is proportional to the diver's instantaneous velocity, shouldn't an increased current make for an increased pushback? – Andres Salas Jul 15 '14 at 15:00
@MarcksThomas, that's true (because it's the definition of a "first order approximation" to be linear). But a 1st-order approximation is rarely useful (maybe in some rf circuits) for the ways we use diodes. – The Photon Jul 15 '14 at 15:59

A resistor retains it's value outside of what you might call a regular circuit. It can sit on a shelf with no perceivable external influences and still be characteristically a resistor of the same value.

It can even theoretically be proven that this is the case by a little thought experiment but you'd have to understand the physics to a much deeper level. For instance, if you had a sensitive voltage measuring device, you would be able to measure the noise voltage that the resistor creates and, if you had an accurate measurement of temperature you could precisely say what the resistance was.

Other than that ohms law defines three variables but, for a perfect resistor, voltage is perfectly proportional to current.

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A good comment. I like this – Andres Salas Jul 15 '14 at 14:51

Ohm's law is an equation on three variables: (\$R=\frac{V}{I}\$). This means that for given values of two of the variables, you can solve for the third. Or if you set one variable and vary a second, you can see the change in the third.

For example:

  • Constant resistance, varying the voltage, see the current vary. This is the case where you have a variable voltage source into a fixed resistor. The current through the resistor will vary proportionally to the voltage.

  • Constant resistance, varying the current, see the voltage vary. This is the case where you have a variable current source into a fixed resistor. The voltage across the resistor will vary proportionally to the current.

  • Constant voltage, varying the resistance, see see the current vary. This is the case where you have a constant voltage source connected to a potentiometer (between the wiper and one end). As you vary the resistance, the current will change as the inverse.

Does this help?

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The answer was useful, but the answer to my question has been resolved in the comments of The Photon's response. You may find it hilarious – Andres Salas Jul 15 '14 at 16:59

How can a resistor not be constant?

If you have a power source that is both a constant current \$I\$ and a constant voltage \$V\$, then surely that current must flow between the two terminals of the power source, and the voltage across that power source must always equal \$V\$.

So, say we have a 1A constant current and a 1V constant voltage, but nothing connected to it, then that 1A must be flowing through what - open space? For that to be the case the resistance of open space must equal 1Ω (\$R=\frac{V}{I}\$). If that were the case, then every battery in the world would pretty much be instantly flat as it is discharged by a 1Ω resistor. All the power lines would explode and melt down, and we would never have got out of the stone age.

So clearly air cannot be 1Ω, which means that logically a constant current and constant voltage together do not make any sense.

The only way you could get 1V at 1A is by using a 1Ω resistor to complete the circuit. Any other value resistor just wouldn't work and something would have to give, usually with the release of the Magic Smoke™.

although a resistor outside of a circuit is completely without voltage and therefore current

So, a battery with nothing attached has no resistance and no current, so the potential difference between its terminals is 0V? But the potential difference is not 0V, it's the voltage of the battery.

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I don't think this actually clarifies anything. – pjc50 Jul 15 '14 at 10:55

If a resistor obeys Ohm's law the resistance is constant (i.e. independent of voltage and current) by definition.

Ohm's law is an idealisation that is a more or less good approximation of reality depending on the particular case. The most important reason why a device doesn't obey Ohm's law is because its resitance depends on temperature, which in turn is affected by the current flowing through the device.

E.g. Ohm's law it is a good approximation if the resistor is a wire of Constantan. It is a bad approximation if the resistor is a light bulb (has low resistance at low temperature/current, has high resistance at high temperature/current; That's why it can be used as a simple current stabilizing element).

A physical model that explains linearity between current density and electrical field (i.e. constant resistivity) is the Drude model.

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Thank you for your comment. I've been reading the Drude model and am glad you brought it up, thanks – Andres Salas Jul 15 '14 at 14:52

Ohm's law is only valid in steady conditions and the variable parts of the equation are V and I. R is a constant. Resistor values are constant because it's a physical property due to the way they are made.

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I know it may be a little late to give an answer here but I'll give one anyway.

Resistors are just as described as they are named resistors for that reason.

Resistor is made of a particular substance of matter that allows a certain amount of current to flow through it despite the voltage sitting at one side of the lead.

Some substances are more conductive and resistant than others, and allow A particular amount of the voltage's current to pass through it's substance.

Here's an example given,, 12 Volts sitting at one side of a resistor and its substance that is made of, will only allow a certain amount of current of the 12volts to pass through it.

depending on the amount of current running through it, can cause friction at the molecular level creating to generate heat as heat disperses outward through the substance and matter.

The higher the voltage sitting at one side of a given substance that can only handle a certain amount of current due to its resistant properties will allow it to flow through it at a certain rate of speed. It depends on the substance versus the voltage to how much current will be allowed to pass through.

The more the voltage the more that the current will try to attempt to push through the substance of matter causing friction.

Basically pushing too much current through a substance not rated for it, meaning it can't handle it will generate heat and if that heat is generated faster than the substance of matter will allow it, will can cause the movement of heat to back up cuasing pressure at a given point spending the properties of the substance of matter.

If the heat cannot disburse at a proper rate,, it will build up within the circuits substance and once it reaches throughout the entire circuit to the outer most limit of it's substance now coming in contact with air to convect through it will cause the heat to not be able to convect so well into the air backing up the heat to create pressure within the substance of the circuit,, raising the temperature to burn it out and spend its functional properties.

The functional properties the allow the passing of current from voltage.

If heat cannot disburse quickly enough in a given substance it will build up to build pressure creating higher temperatures that spend properties of a substance pretty much killing the properties that allow current to flow through it. Which is why you get blown circuit when you want to much voltage through them.

They can burn up to where there is no visible signs of damage,, all the way up to completely burnt black looking

If you want to understand current and ohms for resistance.

Think about how fast you will think and quicksand as verses sinking in a pool of water. The quicksand has more resistance obviously under your same weight having more friction and resistance causing you to sink slower.

Water has less resistance and you will sink much faster under the same weight of your body.

You can say the weight of your body is the voltage.

And the substance "quicksand" Will allow your weight being the voltage to pass through at a certain rate.

It's much the same example as I read above from the guy Russell M. With his example,which is a great example.

You can try reading up on thermodynamics as that ties into it as well. After all it is physics, and different aspects of physics have a hand-in-hand relationship with one another. As energy can be neather destroyed nor created but given from one form to another. Such as Connetic energy can cause A substance of matter to move in motion of velocity to come in contact with another substance rubbing up against it to cause friction causing heat energy. Now Connetic Energy just became heat energy.

So basically a resistor is just as his name is named resistor because it resists electrical current As that is what its job is to do.

The rating of ohms is what the resistor can handle. The higher the rating of the ohms more resistance it will have to resist higher Voltage.

it's hard to read about it and understand it from a book or text.

It is always best to learn from somebody who visually understands it,,,, or you could just go on YouTube and watch some videos there that explain how resistance and a resistor works,, that would be easier.

Hope that was of help and help to anyone in the future reading this?

if anybody sees any mistakes that I made with explaining this? please feel free to correct me in anyway.

Thank you so much Chuck

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