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Voltmeter vs Ammeter

The two most frequently used electronic instruments are the voltmeter and the ammeter. How are these two instruments different? What is the difference between their internal construction that brings out the difference in functionality? The voltmeter vs ammeter comparison made in this article has all the answers to these questions. It is good to know the exact difference between voltmeter and ammeter as it is one of the favorite questions of examiners who conduct physics lab quizzes.

I talk about analog voltmeters and ammeters here. Analog voltmeters and analog ammeters are basically modified galvanometers that can measure current. A galvanometer consists of a coil wrapped around a magnet, to which a pointer is attached. When electricity passes through the coil, an opposing magnetic field is created which makes the coil move. The moving coil compresses a spring attached to it, which subsequently deflects the pointer attached to it. Thus a galvanometer can be calibrated to measure current and voltage with some modifications.

Difference Between Voltmeter and Ammeter

When exploring the difference between two electronic instruments, there are two main points of distinction which are their functionality and internal circuitry. Let us compare voltmeters and ammeters according to these two main features.

Voltmeter Vs Ammeter: Functionality
The obvious difference between a voltmeter and ammeter is that the former is used to make an accurate measurement of potential difference, while the latter is used to measure current flowing between two points. They differ in functionality but they measure two aspects of an electrical measurement which are voltage and amperage. Nowadays, multimeter instruments are available that do the job of a voltmeter and an ammeter.

Voltmeter Vs Ammeter: Connection
There is a difference between how a voltmeter and an ammeter are connected in a circuit. When measuring the voltage across a resistor or a conductor element, the voltmeter is always connected in parallel. As opposed to this, to measure the current flowing through a circuit element an ammeter should be connected in series.

Voltmeter Vs Ammeter: Internal Circuit
Any instrument that makes a measurement of a parameter does so with some degree of inaccuracy as the very act of measuring causes the measurement to be messed up. This could be called a ‘Perturbing Effect’. Let us see what is the internal circuit difference between a voltmeter and ammeter and how is the perturbing effect minimized.

As I said before, both the analog voltmeter and the analog ammeter are modified galvanometers. Let us see how are they different internally. A voltmeter is created by adding a high resistance element in series with the galvanometer coil. The addition of high resistance in series makes the reading of the galvanometer proportional to the voltage being measured. It increases the internal resistance of the voltmeter and the resistance used is generally 10 Mega ohm. An ideal voltmeter should have infinite internal resistance so that it does not draw in any current and create a disturbance in measurement. In actual voltmeters, this effect cannot be exactly eliminated but reduced by adding high resistance in series with the galvanometer.

As opposed to this an ideal ammeter should have zero internal resistance so that it causes no voltage drop across itself while measuring current. A galvanometer is a natural ammeter and it can function as an ammeter without any modifications with the right calibration. However, to measure large currents a small shunt resistance is placed in parallel with the galvanometer, which draws a larger part of the current through it. As the shunt has very low resistance, connecting it in parallel with a high voltage source will short circuit the instrument. That’s why, care should be taken that an analog ammeter is always connected in series.

Hope that this voltmeter vs ammeter comparison has left no doubt in your mind about how and why are these two instruments different in their functioning. Next time you use a voltmeter or ammeter, you will know how it does its job.

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