Voltage

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The voltage between two points is a short name for the electrical force that would drive an electric current between those points. Specifically, voltage is equal to energy per unit charge.[1] In the case of static electric fields, the voltage between two points is equal to the electrical potential difference between those points. In the more general case with electric and magnetic fields that vary with time, the terms are no longer synonymous.[2]

Electric potential is the energy required to move a unit electric charge to a particular place in a static electric field.[3]

Voltage can be measured by a voltmeter. The unit of measurement is the volt.

Contents

Definition

The voltage between two ends of a path is the total energy required to move a small electric charge along that path, divided by the magnitude of the charge. Mathematically this is expressed as the line integral of the electric field and the time rate of change of magnetic field along that path. In the general case, both a static (unchanging) electric field and a dynamic (time-varying) electromagnetic field must be included in determining the voltage between two points.

Historically this quantity has also been called "tension"[4] and "pressure". Pressure is now obsolete but tension is still used, for example within the phrase "high tension" (HT) which is commonly used in thermionic valve (vacuum tube) based electronics.

Hydraulic analogy

A simple analogy for an electric circuit is water flowing in a closed circuit of pipework, driven by a mechanical pump. This can be called a water circuit. Potential difference between two points corresponds to the water pressure difference between two points. If there is a water pressure difference between two points, then water flow (due to the pump) from the first point to the second will be able to do work, such as driving a turbine. In a similar way, work can be done by the electric current driven by the potential difference due to an electric battery: for example, the current generated by an automobile battery can drive the starter motor in an automobile. If the pump isn't working, it produces no pressure difference, and the turbine will not rotate. Equally, if the automobile's battery is flat, then it will not turn the starter motor.

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