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The circuit to the left is the same as the circuit to the right. The
circle connects to the positive terminal of the 12 volt battery and the
ground symbol connects to the negative terminal. |

Where a part of the circuit connects to
the battery a circle with a voltage next to it denotes the connection.
If there are multiple batteries the appropriate connections and
voltages are labeled. A ground symbol denotes the connection to the
appropriate ground point. The example above has only one battery so the
circle connects to the positive terminal and the ground symbol connects
to the negative terminal. This simplified style of schematic is used
below to explain voltage dividers.

As discussed above, when current passes through a resistor there is a voltage differential across that resistor. The voltage is higher at the side of the resistor where the current enters the resistor and lower at the side where the current exits. You can take advantage of this property to reduce voltage when needed. A circuit that does this is called a voltage divider.

Voltage division is simply a manifestation of Kirchhoff's Voltage Law. If you have two resistors in series, some of the total voltage will be seen across one resistor and the rest of the voltage across the other. If the two resistors are of equal value, the voltages across them will be equal. For example, if you have 18 volts across two 100 ohm resistors in series, each resistor will have 9 volts across it, totaling the original 18 volts.

Two equal resistors in series will have equal voltage. Measured compared to ground the voltage between two resistors will be ½ the total voltage (the line next to the “+9V” is just to show where the voltage is measured). |

If one resistor is of a greater value than the other, it will have proportionally more voltage across it. For example, if you have 18 volts across a 100 ohm and a 200 ohm resistor in series, the 100 ohm resistor will have 6 volts across it and the 200 ohm resistor will have 12 volts across it, again totaling the original 18 volts.

If the resistors are not equal, the voltages change proportionally. They still add up to the total voltage. The voltage between the resistors, compared to ground, will be the voltage across the resistor connected to ground. Here the 200 ohm resistor is connected to ground. There are 12 volts across that resistor. Therefore, the voltage between the resistors is +12 volts. |

Notice that we have not concerned ourselves with how much current is flowing. As far as voltage division is concerned it doesn't matter. If you have 18 volts across two resistors in series, and one resistor has twice the resistance as the other, the lower value resistor will have 6 volts across it and the higher value resistor will have 12 volts across it, again totaling the original 18 volts.

It doesn't matter what the actual resistors are. As long as the proportions don't change, the voltages don't change. These voltage dividers have radically different resistors, but since the proportions are the same the voltages are the same. |

The only difference is that the circuit with 300 ohms total resistance has a current of 60 mA (0.06 A) and the circuit with 3,000,000 ohms total resistance has a current of 60 μA (0.00006 A).

Voltage Dividers

Can You Make a Voltage Divider with One Resistor

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