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A potentiometer (colloquially known as a "pot") is a three-terminal resistor with a sliding contact that forms an adjustable voltage divider.[1] If only two terminals are used (one side and the wiper), it acts as a variable resistor or rheostat. Potentiometers are commonly used to control electrical devices such as volume controls on audio equipment. Potentiometers operated by a mechanism can be used as position transducers, for example, in a joystick.

Potentiometers are rarely used to directly control significant power (more than a watt), since the power dissipated in the potentiometer would be comparable to the power in the controlled load (see infinite switch). Instead they are used to adjust the level of analog signals (e.g. volume controls on audio equipment), and as control inputs for electronic circuits. For example, a light dimmer uses a potentiometer to control the switching of a TRIAC and so indirectly control the brightness of lamps.



The slide-wire potentiometer was invented by Johann Christian Poggendorff (1796-1877) in 1841. [2] Leeds and Northrup Type K model was a standard piece of apparatus in most college and university electrical measurements laboratories for the first half of the 20th century.

Potentiometer construction

A potentiometer is constructed with a resistive element formed into an arc of a circle, and a sliding contact (wiper) travelling over that arc. The resistive element, with a terminal at one or both ends, is flat or angled, and is commonly made of graphite, although other materials may be used. The wiper is connected through another sliding contact to another terminal. On panel potentiometers, the wiper is usually the center terminal of three. For single-turn potentiometers, this wiper typically travels just under one revolution around the contact. "Multiturn" potentiometers also exist, where the resistor element may be helical and the wiper may move 10, 20, or more complete revolutions, though multiturn potentimeters are usually constructed of a conventional resistive element wiped via a worm gear. Besides graphite, materials used to make the resistive element include resistance wire, carbon particles in plastic, and a ceramic/metal mixture called cermet.

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