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Resistance and Ohm’s Law

As electrons flow through a conductor, they collide with the vibrating atom of the conductor.
In the process of collision, electrons transfer part of their energy on the atoms.
As the result the atom’s kinetic energy increases. This is manifested as an increase in the
temperature of the conductor. The collision of the electrons in the atoms, in a way, limits the
amount of current in the conductor. This property of a material is called resistivity a measure of
a material’s resistance to the passage of current.
Different materials have different resistivities. Silver has the least resistivity. Copper, the metal
used in the wires that connect various electrical components at home, has a slightly higher
resistivity than silver.
Resistors are electrical components designed to provide high resistance in a circuit. Most have
fixed values, a few have variable resistance. The volume regulator of a radio or a TV is an example
of a variable resistor.

After the invention of the battery, Georg Simon Ohm, a German physicist, did many
experiments to investigate the relationship of current flowing through a conductor and the
voltage applied across its terminal. A piece of conductor is connected to a battery with a variable
voltage. In his experiment, Ohm varied the voltage applied to the circuit and measured the
corresponding current pass through it. He found out that the current / through the conductor is
directly proportional to the applied voltage V. Mathematically,
I = (constant) x V
The above linear relationship between current and voltage is called Ohm’s Law. However, this
is not actually a “law” since not all materials obey this relationship. Moreover, this is valid only
when the temperature of the materials is kept constant. Materials that obey Ohm’s Law are
called Ohmic Materials, while those that deviate from the linear relation are called Nonohmic
The constant of proportionality in Equation 13.8 can be expressed in terms of the resistance R of
the material.
I = 𝑉𝑅 or R = 𝑉𝐼 or V = IR

The three forms of equation 13.9 are mathematically equivalent to each other. The second form
(R = 𝑉𝐼 ) is the operational definition of the resistance of any material. The SI unit of resistance is
Ohm (Ω) which is equal to 1 V/A.
On the other hand, resistance is an extrinsic property of a material. It depends on the size and
shape of the material. For a conductor with a length L, cross-sectional area A and resistivity p, its
resistance is given by
R = p𝐴𝐿 EQUATION 13.10

Equation 13.10 tells us that the resistance depends on the resistivity of the material. And since
resistivity depends on the temperature of the material, the resistance also varies with
temperature Furthermore, longer conductors have higher resistance shorter ones. Thinner
conductors also have higher resistance than thicker ones.
The Atomic Theory of Resistance
Now considering a model where conduction electrons in a metal moving among the positive ions
with an average velocity vaverage which is determined by the metal’s temperature . The
electrons move in random motion and their directions are changed by collisions with the ions.
The average distance between collisions is called the mean free path λ. The mean free path play
as key role in determining resistance.
When an electric field E is maintained in the metal, the negatively charged electrons experience
a force opposite to E. The electrons acquire a drift velocity vdrift in the direction of the force.
Although, vdrift is small compared with vaverage, vdrift is responsible for the current. For the
metals, the number of conduction electrons is typically one or two per atom. Insulators have very
few free electrons, so they do not conduct electricity. Semiconductors, on the other hand, have
resistivities intermediate between those of conductors and insulators. They have only a few
charge carriers, which can be electrons or missing electrons (holes). Classical mechanics suggests
that the mean free path for an electron in a crystal lattice is comparable to the distance between
atoms in the lattice. But according to the modern atomic theory, collision occurs only when an
electron encounters an imperfection in the lattice such as an impurity atom.
How about temperature? How does temperature affect resistivity?
The temperature rises the average velocity of the electron increases. The amplitude of vibration
of the lattice ions increases, thereby decreasing the mean free path. However, for
semiconductors, resistivity decreases with an increase temperature because the number of
charge carriers increases more rapidly, offsetting the changes in path length 𝜆 and speed of
For some conductors, when its temperature is lowered down to less than a certain critical
temperature Tc , resistivity and resistance become zero. At these very low temperatures, usually
a few degrees above absolute zero, it becomes a superconductor.