I think the component name is a rheostat- is that what allows you to control the voltage output please? I want to control it in steps close enough to 0.1 ish volts? So I would like to attach a knob switch (sorry not sure what it’s called, the one where you can rotate it to turn thing up and down) to precisely vary that voltage?

Rheostat or something simpler? I haven’t thought about resistance and stuff, if I had motors involved can I get some advice please on how it would work? So what we thought was using motors on display, and have it so others can play and see how the volts speeds them up or something interactive like that?

4v source is 2 batteries

Sorry I don’t think I explained this well before- I just want to have a motor or two, (or maybe an Light) might be simpler where kids can turn the ‘knob’ clockwise and anti-clockwise and see the light get brighter and dimmer?

(It’s for my sons science fair)

  • $\begingroup$ Control based on what? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ The output please, so let’s say source is 4v, I can control how much goes to components with a switch for example $\endgroup$
    – Jonathan
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 17:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Add all the details into your question. Don't dribble them into the comments. What are you really trying to do? What is your 4 V source? How much current do you need? What level of regulation can you tolerate? A rheostat is a variable resistor. It might work if your load was a resistor too but we have way too little information to answer. $\endgroup$
    – Transistor
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry about that, haven’t used this site before. I edited $\endgroup$
    – Jonathan
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 18:00

2 Answers 2


A potentiometer can be used as a voltage divider to control voltage. It however is a device for precise control of resistance rather than voltage. Voltage is equal to resistance multiplied by current and that means when the current drawn by the motor varies, so too will the voltage.

For a cheap project, consider getting a cheap multimeter. it can be used to measure the voltage. That way even if the motor draws a different amount of current, you just turn the potentiometer until you get to the desired voltage. This is a cheap method of using a feedback loop where a human is in the loop.

You still need to figure out how to measure speed. If the motor is slow enough, you could count how many turns it spins in a known period of time. You could get a sensor. A more expensive multimeter may even be able to give you a frequency measurement for a sensor. You could have the motor wind up a spool of thread and measure how much thread it winds in a known amount of time. (This also gives the interesting option of hanging different weights such as a basket of coins from the thread to change load on the motor)

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the advise, only thing is, both seem really complicated? I just wanted to have less circuitry there are possible as it’s dangerous otherwise? $\endgroup$
    – Jonathan
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ Minimum circuitry is battery, potentiometer, multimeter. Thread, spool, and timer (cell phone app these days?) probably should not be counted as dangerous circuitry (phone's pretty dangerous though). As long as voltage is low (think kid's toys and toy motors running on four AA) and users have a functional nervous system, danger probably will not exceed that of putting a 9V battery to the user's tongue. $\endgroup$
    – Abel
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Abel, should I just put a Light (LED) into it instead, I think the school has lots of different colours too? And then as they vary resistance it gets brighter? $\endgroup$
    – Jonathan
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ LEDs tend to have a very small voltage range in which they turn on. The change in brightness occurs in that tiny range, and going over burns out the LED (under and LED doesn't light up). Some brightness controls actually choose to flash the LEDs on and off very fast rather than try to deal with the precision involved. Eyesight varies a lot so quantifying brightness likely means more electronics. $\endgroup$
    – Abel
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Abel, thank you for the assistance! I’ll have to look into simple light control circuits online tonight, before I ask the school for supplies. Thanks to you and user2537 for the help! $\endgroup$
    – Jonathan
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 13:30

"Good enough" control can be obtained by wiring a potentiometer in series with the motor, i.e. as a rheostat (they are the same thing wired differently). More resistance, less speed. The voltage control is not linear because it forms a voltage divider. It's also continuous - it doesn't "snap" to 0.1V or 0.2V. Maybe you can include a voltmeter in your display, so it shows the current voltage, and then you turn the knob until you get the voltage you want. You can also write a non-linear scale behind the knob. This is the simplest it can possibly be.

If you want a linear control you can wire it as a potentiometer. But connecting the motor will cause the voltage to sag, severely, from what you set it to. So you would need a potentiometer to adjust the voltage, and then a circuit to replicate the same voltage to the motor without affecting it. That is something that can be built, with a handful of parts including an IC (maybe someone else knows a design without an IC). Since you seem to be a complete beginner I wouldn't call it simple for you, but it would be simple for someone who knew how to build circuits with transistors and ICs.

You can find an already-built voltage converter module online. Buying these is pretty common for electronics hobbyists because it's easier than building your own. It will be a circuit board with some places to screw the input (battery) and output (motor) wires and some way to adjust the voltage, either a small knob or up/down buttons. Often it takes a screwdriver You may be able to find one that has a knob and also has a little screen that shows the voltage. A note: a "buck converter" can decrease voltage (motor voltage lower than battery voltage); a "boost converter" can increase it (motor voltage higher than battery); a "buck/boost converter" can do both.

For the science fair context, this may be a bit of a dangerous option since these are usually just circuit boards and people could touch the circuit board with metal things and break it - and you'd have to let them touch it so they could adjust the voltage. But maybe you're handy enough to make a little cardboard or wooden or plastic case.

The voltage from your batteries will probably decrease over the course of the science fair so if you label different voltages on the knob they will be wrong by the end. If you choose to buy a voltage converter circuit, it will automatically adjust to keep the output voltage the same. You might want to consider plugging your circuit into the wall - not dangerous - you can find transformers that plug into the wall and output 12 or 9 or 5 volts that you can use for your circuit. This only works if your science fair will have a place to plug it in.

I haven't gone into too much detail on any of these options because I think the main point of this question was to figure out what your options are. If you need more help implementing one you can ask a separate question. Note that "where can I buy this part?" questions are not allowed because the answers always go out of date.

My recommendation: If the goal is just to measure how the motor reacts to different voltages (you do not care about explaining the rest of the circuit), and you can find a way to protect the circuit from damage from kids, I would try to find a voltage converter module that has the right user interface for your project. Otherwise, I would use the first option (rheostat in series and a voltmeter) as it is very simple.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi thanks User and Abel for the help! For the rheostat, so it wouldn’t be able to vary voltage in small steps like 0.2v, 0.4v as I let them turn it? I think it would be cool is they could really see the vary? I was thinking of putting in a light too? $\endgroup$
    – Jonathan
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 12:41

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