Welcome to practical physicsPracticle physics - practical activities designed for use in the classroom with 11 to 19 year olds

Comparing the powers of electric motors 1


Comparing the power output of two motors.

Apparatus and materials

Electric motor, small

Switch unit

Mass, 1 kg

Line shaft unit

Power supply, 0-12 V

Fractional horse-power motor (or the largest DC motor available)



Rubber band or driving belt

Knife switch


Metre rule

Health & Safety and Technical notes

The person controlling the switch must stop the motor before the load reaches the line shaft. (If the load spins round the shaft, the string may break and the load go flying.)
To stop the motor, power must be removed from both field and armature coils. The power supply may incorporate a smoothing capacitor which discharges slowly when the mains switch is operated.


Small electric motor

a Connect the small electric motor to the line shaft using the drive belt. Attach the mass to the line shaft with the cord.

b Connect the motor to the variable DC supply using a switch and set at the appropriate voltage for the motor so that the load rises slowly. (Although the knife switch is not essential, it allows the power to be connected for a more precise time.)

c Time the load being lifted a fixed distance, say 1 metre.

Small electric motor and line shaft

d Connect the field and armature terminals of the fractional horse-power motor, in parallel to the DC terminals of the power supply set at 6 volts (or the rated voltage for the motor). 

e Attach the mass to the shaft by cord, so that it is lifted when the motor is switched on, as before.

f Note the time for raising the load through 1 metre and compare this with time taken for the small motor.

connect the field and armature terminal

Teaching notes

1 The time taken to raise the load is shorter when more volts are used. The motor is said to be ‘more powerful’ when a higher potential difference is used. The loads can be changed and the potential difference kept constant; larger loads take longer to raise. There is only so much power a motor can supply for a given potential difference, and so it works more slowly with heavier loads.
2 Gravitational potential energy gained by a rising load = m x g x h joules
Power supplied to raise the load = m x g x h / t watts
Where m is the mass (kg), h is the vertical distance (m), g is the gravitational field strength (N/kg) and t is time taken (s).
Energy transferred from a power supply to a component, such as a motor
= V x Q joules
Power supplied electrically = V x Q / t
= V x I watts
Where V is potential difference in volts, Q is charge in coulombs, I is current in amps and t is the time taken in seconds.
3 The field coils of the fractional horse-power motor also have energy transferred to them. For a more accurate comparison with other motors, measure

  • the potential difference across the armature and
  • the current passing through it.

4 If you compare the small motor and the fractional horse-power motor, both running on 6 volts and hauling up the same load, the larger motor is faster. Measuring the current through the armature will show that the current is also greater through the heavier motor.
5 Another variation is to run the two motors at the same voltage, but with different loads, so that the speed with which the load is raised is the same for both motors. The bigger motor will have a larger current passing through it, and will haul up a larger load.
6 The motors can also be compared by measuring the braking force to stall the motor. Increase the load until the motor stops turning. (Do not keep it long in a stalled position.)
This experiment was safety-checked in January 2006


Related guidance

Power and energy