Voltage, Current, Resistance, and Ohm's Law

Contributors: CTaylor
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We define voltage as the amount of potential energy between two points on a circuit. One point has more charge than another. This difference in charge between the two points is called voltage. It is measured in volts, which, technically, is the potential energy difference between two points that will impart one joule of energy per coulomb of charge that passes through it (don’t panic if this makes no sense, all will be explained). The unit “volt” is named after the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta who invented what is considered the first chemical battery. Voltage is represented in equations and schematics by the letter “V”.

When describing voltage, current, and resistance, a common analogy is a water tank. In this analogy, charge is represented by the water amount, voltage is represented by the water pressure, and current is represented by the water flow. So for this analogy, remember:

  • Water = Charge
  • Pressure = Voltage
  • Flow = Current

Consider a water tank at a certain height above the ground. At the bottom of this tank there is a hose.

Voltage is like the pressure created by the water.

The pressure at the end of the hose can represent voltage. The water in the tank represents charge. The more water in the tank, the higher the charge, the more pressure is measured at the end of the hose.

We can think of this tank as a battery, a place where we store a certain amount of energy and then release it. If we drain our tank a certain amount, the pressure created at the end of the hose goes down. We can think of this as decreasing voltage, like when a flashlight gets dimmer as the batteries run down. There is also a decrease in the amount of water that will flow through the hose. Less pressure means less water is flowing, which brings us to current.