Resistivity: Can Iron Conduct Electricity Better Than Copper?
Yes, if the wire is longer or thicker. Copper is well known as a good conductor of electricity. This same is not usually said about iron. This project deals with two ideas that sound similar, but that are quite different: resistance and resistivity.
What You Need
- uninsulated copper wire 25 cm in length
- uninsulated iron wire 25 cm in length of the same diameter (this can be indicated by the wire gauge or AWG)
- (other material combinations, such as aluminum or silver wire can be used instead of, or in addition to, copper and iron)
- DC power supply
- (if you have a digital multimeter, you may be able to use the ohmmeter setting directly)
- connecting wire
- Set up the circuit as shown in Figure 102-1. Mark the wire with a Sharpie in 2 cm (or other convenient) lengths.
- The ammeter is attached across the entire length of the wire. The current from the power supply flows through the entire length of the wire. The voltmeter is attached only across the selected length (2 cm, 4 cm and so on).
- Read voltage, current, and distance.
- Find the electrical resistance from Ohm's law by dividing the voltage (volts) by the current (amps). This gives a resistance reading in ohms. This can also be directly read from an ohmmeter if you have one.
- Compare the resistance you measure for different lengths.
- For a given diameter, multiplying the resistance by the length gives a measure of the wire's resistivity. What do you find happens to this value as the length increases?
The longer the wire, the greater the resistance.
The greater the cross-sectional area of the wire, the lower the resistance.
Resistance increases (linearly) with length.
Resistance is inversely proportional to cross-sectional area. This is represented in Figure 102-2.
The cross-sectional areas of the various American wire gauges (AWG) are shown in Table 102-1.
Resistivity at 20 degrees C for various materials used to make wires is shown in Table 102-2. This tells how much resistance is contributed by every meter of wire.
Why It Works
For a given wire size, resistance is proportional to the material's resistivity, according to the equation:
R = ρL/A
where R is resistance in ohms
ρ is the resistivity in ohm-cm (ρ is the Greek letter "rho")
L is length in centimeters
A is cross-sectional area in centimeters.
Other Things to Try
A less precise, but possibly more fun, approach to this experiment is to use wires cut from food items, such as pickles or fruit, or by forming wires from Play Dough.
The wire can be sliced in sections as it is measured to shorten its length. This approach may require the use of two meters because the ohmmeter may not be stable.
This can be taken a step further by comparing the resistance to the resistivity. You can get the resistivity by multiplying the resistance by the length of the wire (in cm) and the area of the wire (in cm2). You can get the area of the wire from using a measured or looked-up value for the wire diameter and using the equation:
- A = πr2
where r is the radius of the wire.
Resistance is a measure of how difficult it is for a given voltage to force electrons through a conductor. It doesn't matter how big or small the piece of conductor. All that matters is the overall effect it has in the electrical circuit.
On the other hand, resistivity is a measure of how effective a particular material is in impeding the flow of electrons. Resistivity is the same for any particular material.
Resistance combines the effect of the material's resistivity, as well as its length and cross-section.
Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state’s handbook of Science Safety.