Electrical resistivity and conductivity

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Electrical resistivity (also called specific electrical resistance or volume resistivity) is a fundamental property of a material that measures how strongly it resists electric current. A low resistivity indicates a material that readily allows electric current. Resistivity is commonly represented by the Greek letter ρ (rho). The SI unit of electrical resistivity is the ohm-meter (Ω⋅m). For example, if a 1 m3 solid cube of material has sheet contacts on two opposite faces, and the resistance between these contacts is 1 Ω, then the resistivity of the material is 1 Ω⋅m.

Electrical conductivity or specific conductance is the reciprocal of electrical resistivity. It represents a material's ability to conduct electric current. It is commonly signified by the Greek letter σ (sigma), but κ (kappa) (especially in electrical engineering) and γ (gamma) are sometimes used. The SI unit of electrical conductivity is siemens per metre (S/m).

The electrical resistivity of a metallic conductor decreases gradually as temperature is lowered. In classical (that is, non-superconducting) conductors, such as copper or silver, this decrease is limited by impurities and other defects. Even near absolute zero, a real sample of a normal conductor shows some resistance. In materials displaying superconductivity however, the resistance drops abruptly to zero when the material is cooled below its critical temperature. In a normal conductor, the current is driven by a voltage gradient, whereas in a superconductor, there is no voltage gradient and the current is instead related to the phase gradient of the superconducting order parameter. A consequence of this is that an electric current flowing in a loop of superconducting wire can persist indefinitely with no power source.


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