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How does a potentiometer measure voltage ?

A potentiometer, often referred to as a “pot,” is a variable resistor with three terminals used to measure voltage in electronic circuits. It works based on the principle of dividing voltage through a resistive element. Here’s a detailed explanation of how a potentiometer measures voltage:

Components of a Potentiometer:

  1. Resistive Element:
    • The potentiometer consists of a resistive element, typically a long, thin strip of resistive material. This material often has a uniform resistance per unit length.
  2. Wiper:
    • A wiper is a movable contact that makes physical contact with the resistive element. It can slide along the length of the resistive strip.
  3. Terminals:
    • A potentiometer has three terminals: two fixed terminals connected to the ends of the resistive strip (let’s call them A and B) and one movable terminal connected to the wiper (let’s call it W).

Principle of Voltage Division:

  1. Voltage Applied Across Fixed Terminals (A and B):
    • A voltage source is connected across the fixed terminals A and B. The potential difference between A and B represents the total voltage applied.
  2. Wiper Position:
    • As the wiper moves along the resistive strip, it creates a variable resistance between the wiper terminal (W) and either of the fixed terminals (A or B). The position of the wiper determines the ratio of resistances on either side.
  3. Voltage Division Formula:
    • The voltage at the wiper terminal (Vout) is determined by the voltage division formula: �out=�total×�wiper�totalVout​=Vtotal​×Rtotal​Rwiper​​ where:
      • �totalVtotal​ is the total voltage applied across A and B.
      • �wiperRwiper​ is the resistance between the wiper terminal and one of the fixed terminals.
      • �totalRtotal​ is the total resistance between A and B.
  4. Variable Voltage Output:
    • By adjusting the position of the wiper, the resistance between the wiper terminal and one of the fixed terminals changes, leading to a variable output voltage. The output voltage is a fraction of the total applied voltage, depending on the wiper position.

Practical Applications:

  1. Volume Control in Audio Systems:
    • In audio systems, potentiometers are commonly used as volume controls. Adjusting the potentiometer changes the resistance and, consequently, the voltage applied to the amplifier.
  2. Dimmer Switches:
    • Potentiometers are employed in dimmer switches for lighting control. The position of the wiper determines the brightness of the connected light source.
  3. Control Inputs in Electronics:
    • Potentiometers are used in electronic circuits to provide variable control inputs, such as adjusting the gain in an amplifier or setting the reference voltage in a sensor circuit.

Types of Potentiometers:

  1. Linear Potentiometer:
    • In a linear potentiometer, the resistance varies linearly along the strip. The change in resistance per unit length is constant.
  2. Logarithmic (Log) Potentiometer:
    • In a logarithmic potentiometer, the resistance varies logarithmically. Log pots are often used in audio applications, as the human ear perceives changes in loudness logarithmically.


  1. Load Impedance:
    • The load impedance connected to the wiper can affect the accuracy of voltage measurement. High load impedance is desirable for minimal voltage drop.
  2. Wiper Contact Quality:
    • The quality of the wiper contact with the resistive strip is crucial for reliable measurements. Abrasion or dirt on the strip can introduce noise and affect accuracy.

In summary, a potentiometer measures voltage by dividing the total voltage across its fixed terminals using a resistive element and a movable wiper. Adjusting the wiper position changes the resistance and, consequently, the voltage output. This versatile device finds applications in a variety of electronic circuits for control and measurement purposes.

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