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There are practical limits to galvanometer sensitivity, but it is possible to get analog meters that make measurements accurate to a few percent. Note that the inaccuracy comes from altering the circuit, not from a fault in the meter.

Connections: limits to knowledge

Making a measurement alters the system being measured in a manner that produces uncertainty in the measurement. For macroscopic systems, such as the circuits discussed in this module, the alteration can usually be made negligibly small, but it cannot be eliminated entirely. For submicroscopic systems, such as atoms, nuclei, and smaller particles, measurement alters the system in a manner that cannot be made arbitrarily small. This actually limits knowledge of the system—even limiting what nature can know about itself. We shall see profound implications of this when the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is discussed in the modules on quantum mechanics.

There is another measurement technique based on drawing no current at all and, hence, not altering the circuit at all. These are called null measurements and are the topic of Null Measurements . Digital meters that employ solid-state electronics and null measurements can attain accuracies of one part in 10 6 size 12{"10" rSup { size 8{6} } } {} .

Digital meters are able to detect smaller currents than analog meters employing galvanometers. How does this explain their ability to measure voltage and current more accurately than analog meters?

Since digital meters require less current than analog meters, they alter the circuit less than analog meters. Their resistance as a voltmeter can be far greater than an analog meter, and their resistance as an ammeter can be far less than an analog meter. Consult [link] and [link] and their discussion in the text.

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Phet explorations: circuit construction kit (dc only), virtual lab

Stimulate a neuron and monitor what happens. Pause, rewind, and move forward in time in order to observe the ions as they move across the neuron membrane.

Circuit Construction Kit (DC Only), Virtual Lab

Section summary

  • Voltmeters measure voltage, and ammeters measure current.
  • A voltmeter is placed in parallel with the voltage source to receive full voltage and must have a large resistance to limit its effect on the circuit.
  • An ammeter is placed in series to get the full current flowing through a branch and must have a small resistance to limit its effect on the circuit.
  • Both can be based on the combination of a resistor and a galvanometer, a device that gives an analog reading of current.
  • Standard voltmeters and ammeters alter the circuit being measured and are thus limited in accuracy.

Conceptual questions

Why should you not connect an ammeter directly across a voltage source as shown in [link] ? (Note that script E in the figure stands for emf.)

A circuit shows a connection of a cell of e m f script E and internal resistance r. Each terminal of the cell is connected to opposite ends of the ammeter. The circuit is closed.
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Suppose you are using a multimeter (one designed to measure a range of voltages, currents, and resistances) to measure current in a circuit and you inadvertently leave it in a voltmeter mode. What effect will the meter have on the circuit? What would happen if you were measuring voltage but accidentally put the meter in the ammeter mode?

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Practice Key Terms 8

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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