Home > Textbooks > Lessons In Electric Circuits > Vol. I - DC > Divider Circuits and Kirchhoff's Laws > Current Divider Circuits

Chapter 6: DIVIDER CIRCUITS AND KIRCHHOFF'S LAWS

# Current Divider Circuits

Let's analyze a simple parallel circuit, determining the branch currents through individual resistors:

Knowing that voltages across all components in a parallel circuit are the same, we can fill in our voltage/current/resistance table with 6 volts across the top row:

Using Ohm's Law (I=E/R) we can calculate each branch current:

Knowing that branch currents add up in parallel circuits to equal the total current, we can arrive at total current by summing 6 mA, 2 mA, and 3 mA:

The final step, of course, is to figure total resistance. This can be done with Ohm's Law (R=E/I) in the "total" column, or with the parallel resistance formula from individual resistances. Either way, we'll get the same answer:

Once again, it should be apparent that the current through each resistor
is related to its resistance, given that the voltage across all
resistors is the same. Rather than being directly proportional, the
relationship here is one of inverse proportion. For example, the
current through R_{1} is twice as much as the current through R_{3}, which has twice the resistance of R_{1}.

If we were to change the supply voltage of this circuit, we find that (surprise!) these proportional ratios do not change:

The current through R_{1} is still exactly twice that of R_{3},
despite the fact that the source voltage has changed. The
proportionality between different branch currents is strictly a function
of resistance.

Also reminiscent of voltage dividers is the fact that branch currents are fixed proportions of the total current. Despite the fourfold increase in supply voltage, the ratio between any branch current and the total current remains unchanged:

For this reason a parallel circuit is often called a *current divider*
for its ability to proportion -- or divide -- the total current into
fractional parts. With a little bit of algebra, we can derive a formula
for determining parallel resistor current given nothing more than total
current, individual resistance, and total resistance:

The ratio of total resistance to individual resistance is the same ratio
as individual (branch) current to total current. This is known as the *current divider formula*, and it is a short-cut method for determining branch currents in a parallel circuit when the total current is known.

Using the original parallel circuit as an example, we can re-calculate the branch currents using this formula, if we start by knowing the total current and total resistance:

If you take the time to compare the two divider formulae, you'll see
that they are remarkably similar. Notice, however, that the ratio in
the voltage divider formula is R_{n} (individual resistance) divided by R_{Total}, and how the ratio in the current divider formula is R_{Total} divided by R_{n}:

It is quite easy to confuse these two equations, getting the resistance
ratios backwards. One way to help remember the proper form is to keep
in mind that both ratios in the voltage and current divider equations
must equal less than one. After all these are *divider* equations, not *multiplier*
equations! If the fraction is upside-down, it will provide a ratio
greater than one, which is incorrect. Knowing that total resistance in a
series (voltage divider) circuit is always greater than any of the
individual resistances, we know that the fraction for that formula must
be R_{n} over R_{Total}. Conversely, knowing that total
resistance in a parallel (current divider) circuit is always less then
any of the individual resistances, we know that the fraction for that
formula must be R_{Total} over R_{n}.

Current divider circuits also find application in electric meter circuits, where a fraction of a measured current is desired to be routed through a sensitive detection device. Using the current divider formula, the proper shunt resistor can be sized to proportion just the right amount of current for the device in any given instance:

**REVIEW:**- Parallel circuits proportion, or "divide," the total circuit current
among individual branch currents, the proportions being strictly
dependent upon resistances: I
_{n}= I_{Total}(R_{Total}/ R_{n})

## Related Content:

Circuits: Parallel resistors.

Video lecture: Current Dividers.