# voltage measurement

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## Voltage measurement

Determination of the difference in electrostatic potential between two points. The unit of voltage in the International System of Units (SI) is the volt, defined as the potential difference between two points of a conducting wire carrying a constant current of 1 ampere when the power dissipated between these two points is equal to 1 watt.

#### Direct-current voltage measurement

The chief types of instruments for measuring direct-current (constant) voltage are potentiometers, resistive voltage dividers, pointer instruments, and electronic voltmeters.

The most fundamental dc voltage measurements from 0 to a little over 10 V can now be made by direct comparison against Josephson systems. At a slightly lower accuracy level and in the range 0 to 2 V, precision potentiometers are used in conjunction with very low-noise electronic amplifiers or photocoupled galvanometer detectors. Potentiometers are capable of self-calibration, since only linearity is important, and can give accurate measurements down to a few nanovolts. When electronic amplifiers are used, it may often be more convenient to measure small residual unbalance voltages, rather than to seek an exact balance. See Galvanometer, Josephson effect

Voltage measurements of voltages above 2 V are made by using resistive dividers. These are tapped chains of wire-wound resistors, often immersed in oil, which can be self-calibrated for linearity by using a buildup method. Instruments for use up to 1 kV, with tappings typically in a binary or binary-coded decimal series from 1 V, are known as volt ratio boxes, and normally provide uncertainties down to a few parts per million. Another configuration allows the equalization of a string of resistors, all operating at their appropriate power level, by means of an internal bridge. The use of series-parallel arrangements can provide certain easily adjusted ratios.

Higher voltages can be measured by extending such chains, but as the voltage increases above about 15 kV, increasing attention must be paid to avoid any sharp edges or corners, which could give rise to corona discharges or breakdown. High-voltage dividers for use up to 100 kV with an uncertainty of about 1 in 105, and to 1 MV with an uncertainty of about 1 in 104, have been made. See Electrical breakdown

For most of the twentieth century the principal dc indicating voltmeters have been moving-coil milliammeters, usually giving full-scale deflection with a current between 20 microamperes and 1 milliampere and provided with a suitable series resistor. Many of these will certainly continue to be used for many years, giving an uncertainty of about 1% of full-scale deflection.

The digital voltmeter has become the principal means used for voltage measurement at all levels of accuracy, even beyond one part in 107, and at all voltages up to 1 kV. Essentially, digital voltmeters consist of a power supply, which may be fed by either mains or batteries; a voltage reference, usually provided by a Zener diode; an analog-to-digital converter; and a digital display system. This design provides measurement over a basic range from zero to a few volts, or up to 20 V. Additional lower ranges may be provided by amplifiers, and higher ranges by resistive attenuators. The accuracy on the basic range is limited to that of the analog-to-digital converter.

Most modern digital voltmeters use an analog-to-digital converter based on a version of the charge balance principle. In such converters the charge accumulated from the input signal during a fixed time by an integrator is balanced by a reference current of opposite polarity. This current is applied for the time necessary to reach charge balance, which is proportional to the input signal. The time is measured by counting clock pulses, suitably scaled and displayed. Microprocessors are used extensively in these instruments.

#### Alternating-current voltage measurements

Since the working standards of voltage are of the direct-current type, all ac measurements have to be referred to dc through transfer devices or conversion systems. A variety of techniques can be used to convert an ac signal into a dc equivalent automatically. All multimeters and most ac meters make use of ac-dc conversion to provide ac ranges. These are usually based on electronic circuits. Rectifiers provide the most simple example. See Multimeter

In a commonly used system, the signal to be measured is applied, through a relay contact, to a thermal converter. In order to improve sensitivity, a modified single-junction thermal converter may be used in which there are two or three elements in a single package, each with its own thermocouple. The output of the thermal converter is measured by a very sensitive, high-resolution analog-to-digital converter, and the digital value memorized. When a measurement is required, the relay is operated, and the thermal converter receives its input, through a different relay contact, from a dc power supply, the amplitude of which is controlled by a digital and analog feedback loop in order to bring the analog-to-digital converter output back to the memorized level. The dc signal is a converted value of the ac input and can be measured. Modern versions of this type of instrument make use of microprocessors to control the conversion process, enhance the speed of operation, and include corrections for some of the errors in the device and range-setting components.

As in the dc case, digital voltmeters are now probably the instruments in widest use for ac voltage measurement. The simplest use diode rectification of the ac to provide a dc signal, which is then amplified and displayed as in dc instruments. This provides a signal proportional to the rectified mean. For most purposes an arithmetic adjustment is made, and the root-mean-square value of a sinusoidal voltage that would give the same signal is displayed. Several application-specific analog integrated circuits have been developed for use in instruments that are required to respond to the root-mean-square value of the ac input. More refined circuits, based on the logarithmic properties of transistors or the Gilbert analog multiplier circuit, have been developed for use in precision instruments. The best design, in which changes in the gain of the conversion circuit are automatically compensated, achieves errors less than 10 ppm at low and audio frequencies.

Sampling digital voltmeters are also used, in which the applied voltage is switched for a time very short compared with the period of the signal into a sample-and-hold circuit, of which the essential element is a small capacitor. The voltage retained can then be digitized without any need for haste. At low frequencies this approach offers high accuracy and great versatility, since the voltages can be processed or analyzed as desired. At higher frequencies, for example, in the microwave region, it also makes possible the presentation and processing of fast voltage waveforms using conventional circuits. See Oscilloscope

Voltage measurements at radio frequencies are made by the use of rectifier instruments at frequencies up to a few hundred megahertz, single-junction converters at frequencies up to 500 MHz, or matched bolometers or calorimeters. At these higher frequencies the use of a voltage at a point must be linked to information regarding the transmission system in which it is measured, and most instruments effectively measure the power in a matched transmission line, usually of 50 ohms characteristic impedance, and deduce the voltage from it. See Bolometer, Microwave measurements

Pulse voltage measurements are made most simply by transferring the pulse waveform to an oscilloscope, the deflection sensitivity of which can be calibrated by using low-frequency sine waves or dc. Digital sampling techniques may also be used. See Electrical measurements, Voltmeter

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Physics. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

## voltage measurement

[′vōl·tij ‚mezh·ər·mənt]
(electricity)
Determination of the difference in electrostatic potential between two points.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

## Voltage measurement

Determination of the difference in electrostatic potential between two points. The unit of voltage in the International System of Units (SI) is the volt, defined as the potential difference between two points of a conducting wire carrying a constant current of 1 ampere when the power dissipated between these two points is equal to 1 watt.

#### Direct-current voltage measurement

The chief types of instruments for measuring direct-current (constant) voltage are potentiometers, resistive voltage dividers, pointer instruments, and electronic voltmeters.

The most fundamental dc voltage measurements from 0 to a little over 10 V can now be made by direct comparison against Josephson systems. At a slightly lower accuracy level and in the range 0 to 2 V, precision potentiometers are used in conjunction with very low-noise electronic amplifiers or photocoupled galvanometer detectors. Potentiometers are capable of self-calibration, since only linearity is important, and can give accurate measurements down to a few nanovolts. When electronic amplifiers are used, it may often be more convenient to measure small residual unbalance voltages, rather than to seek an exact balance. See Amplifier

Voltage measurements of voltages above 2 V are made by using resistive dividers. These are tapped chains of wire-wound resistors, often immersed in oil, which can be self-calibrated for linearity by using a buildup method. Instruments for use up to 1 kV, with tappings typically in a binary or binary-coded decimal series from 1 V, are known as volt ratio boxes, and normally provide uncertainties down to a few parts per million. Another configuration allows the equalization of a string of resistors, all operating at their appropriate power level, by means of an internal bridge. The use of series-parallel arrangements can provide certain easily adjusted ratios.

Higher voltages can be measured by extending such chains, but as the voltage increases above about 15 kV, increasing attention must be paid to avoid any sharp edges or corners, which could give rise to corona discharges or breakdown. High-voltage dividers for use up to 100 kV with an uncertainty of about 1 in 105, and to 1 MV with an uncertainty of about 1 in 104, have been made.

For most of the twentieth century the principal dc indicating voltmeters have been moving-coil milliammeters, usually giving full-scale deflection with a current between 20 microamperes and 1 milliampere and provided with a suitable series resistor. Many of these will certainly continue to be used for many years, giving an uncertainty of about 1% of full-scale deflection.

The digital voltmeter has become the principal means used for voltage measurement at all levels of accuracy, even beyond one part in 107, and at all voltages up to 1 kV. Essentially, digital voltmeters consist of a power supply, which may be fed by either mains or batteries; a voltage reference, usually provided by a Zener diode; an analog-to-digital converter; and a digital display system. This design provides measurement over a basic range from zero to a few volts, or up to 20 V. Additional lower ranges may be provided by amplifiers, and higher ranges by resistive attenuators. The accuracy on the basic range is limited to that of the analog-to-digital converter. See Analog-to-digital converter, Electronic power supply

Most modern digital voltmeters use an analog-to-digital converter based on a version of the charge balance principle. In such converters the charge accumulated from the input signal during a fixed time by an integrator is balanced by a reference current of opposite polarity. This current is applied for the time necessary to reach charge balance, which is proportional to the input signal. The time is measured by counting clock pulses, suitably scaled and displayed. Microprocessors are used extensively in these instruments.

#### Alternating-current voltage measurements

Since the working standards of voltage are of the direct-current type, all ac measurements have to be referred to dc through transfer devices or conversion systems. A variety of techniques can be used to convert an ac signal into a dc equivalent automatically. All multimeters and most ac meters make use of ac-dc conversion to provide ac ranges. These are usually based on electronic circuits. Rectifiers provide the most simple example.

In a commonly used system, the signal to be measured is applied, through a relay contact, to a thermal converter. In order to improve sensitivity, a modified single-junction thermal converter may be used in which there are two or three elements in a single package, each with its own thermocouple. The output of the thermal converter is measured by a very sensitive, high-resolution analog-to-digital converter, and the digital value memorized. When a measurement is required, the relay is operated, and the thermal converter receives its input, through a different relay contact, from a dc power supply, the amplitude of which is controlled by a digital and analog feedback loop in order to bring the analog-to-digital converter output back to the memorized level. The dc signal is a converted value of the ac input and can be measured. Modern versions of this type of instrument make use of microprocessors to control the conversion process, enhance the speed of operation, and include corrections for some of the errors in the device and range-setting components.

As in the dc case, digital voltmeters are now probably the instruments in widest use for ac voltage measurement. The simplest use diode rectification of the ac to provide a dc signal, which is then amplified and displayed as in dc instruments. This provides a signal proportional to the rectified mean. For most purposes an arithmetic adjustment is made, and the root-mean-square value of a sinusoidal voltage that would give the same signal is displayed. Several application-specific analog integrated circuits have been developed for use in instruments that are required to respond to the root-mean-square value of the ac input. More refined circuits, based on the logarithmic properties of transistors or the Gilbert analog multiplier circuit, have been developed for use in precision instruments. The best design, in which changes in the gain of the conversion circuit are automatically compensated, achieves errors less than 10 ppm at low and audio frequencies.

Sampling digital voltmeters are also used, in which the applied voltage is switched for a time very short compared with the period of the signal into a sample-and-hold circuit, of which the essential element is a small capacitor. The voltage retained can then be digitized without any need for haste. At low frequencies this approach offers high accuracy and great versatility, since the voltages can be processed or analyzed as desired. At higher frequencies, for example, in the microwave region, it also makes possible the presentation and processing of fast voltage waveforms using conventional circuits. See Oscilloscope

Voltage measurements at radio frequencies are made by the use of rectifier instruments at frequencies up to a few hundred megahertz, single-junction converters at frequencies up to 500 MHz, or matched bolometers or calorimeters. At these higher frequencies the use of a voltage at a point must be linked to information regarding the transmission system in which it is measured, and most instruments effectively measure the power in a matched transmission line, usually of 50 ohms characteristic impedance, and deduce the voltage from it. See Bolometer, Microwave measurements

Pulse voltage measurements are made most simply by transferring the pulse waveform to an oscilloscope, the deflection sensitivity of which can be calibrated by using low-frequency sine waves or dc. Digital sampling techniques may also be used. See Voltmeter

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Engineering. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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