galvanometer (gălˌvənŏmˈətər) [key], instrument used to determine the presence, direction, and strength of an electric current in a conductor. All galvanometers are based upon the discovery by Hans C. Oersted that a magnetic needle is deflected by the presence of an electric current in a nearby conductor. When an electric current is passing through the conductor, the magnetic needle tends to turn at right angles to the conductor so that its direction is parallel to the lines of induction around the conductor and its north pole points in the direction in which these lines of induction flow. In general, the extent to which the needle turns is dependent upon the strength of the current. In the first galvanometers, a freely turning magnetic needle was hung in a coil of wire; in later versions the magnet was fixed and the coil made movable. Modern galvanometers are of this movable-coil type and are called d'Arsonval galvanometers (after Arsène d'Arsonval, a French physicist). If a pointer is attached to the moving coil so that it passes over a suitably calibrated scale, the galvanometer can be used to measure quantitatively the current passing through it. Such calibrated galvanometers are used in many electrical measuring devices. The DC ammeter, an instrument for measuring direct current, often consists of a calibrated galvanometer through which the current to be measured is made to pass. Since heavy currents would damage the galvanometer, a bypass, or shunt, is provided so that only a certain known percentage of the current passes through the galvanometer. By measuring the known percentage of the current, one arrives at the total current. The DC voltmeter, which can measure direct voltage, consists of a calibrated galvanometer connected in series (see electric circuit) with a high resistance. To measure the voltage between two points, one connects the voltmeter between them. The current through the galvanometer (and hence the pointer reading) is then proportional to the voltage (see Ohm's law).
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