The two fundamental properties of current and voltage are related by a third property known as resistance. In any electrical circuit, when voltage is applied to it, a current results. The resistance of the conductor determines the amount of current that flows under the given voltage. In general, the greater the circuit resistance, the less the current. If the resistance is reduced, then the current will increase. This relation is linear in nature and is known as Ohm’s Law. An example would be if the resistance of a circuit is doubled, and the voltage is held constant, then the current through the resistor is cut in half.
There is no distinct dividing line between conductors and insulators; under the proper conditions, all types of material conduct some current. Materials offering a resistance to current flow midway between the best conductors and the poorest conductors (insulators) are sometimes referred to as semiconductors and find their greatest application in the field of transistors.
The best conductors are materials, chiefly metals, that possess a large number of free electrons. Conversely, insulators are materials having few free electrons. The best conductors are silver, copper, gold, and aluminum, but some nonmetals, such as carbon and water, can be used as conductors. Materials such as rubber, glass, ceramics, and plastics are such poor conductors that they are usually used as insulators. The current flow in some of these materials is so low that it is usually considered zero.
Factors Affecting Resistance
The resistance of a metallic conductor is dependent on the type of conductor material. It has been pointed out that certain metals are commonly used as conductors because of the large number of free electrons in their outer orbits. Copper is usually considered the best available conductor material, since a copper wire of a particular diameter offers a lower resistance to current flow than an aluminum wire of the same diameter. However, aluminum is much lighter than copper, and for this reason, as well as cost considerations, aluminum is often used when the weight factor is important.
The resistance of a metallic conductor is directly proportional to its length. The longer the length of a given size of wire, the greater the resistance. Figure 9-5 shows two wire conductors of different lengths. If 1 volt of electrical pressure is applied across the two ends of the conductor that is 1 foot in length and the resistance to the movement of free electrons is assumed to be 1 ohm, the current flow is limited to 1 ampere. If the same size conductor is doubled in length, the same electrons set in motion by the 1 volt applied now find twice the resistance.