n. An electronic component having a variable resistance; used to protect circuits against power surges.
A varistor is an electronic component with an electrical resistance that varies with the applied voltage. Also known as a voltage-dependent resistor (VDR), it has a nonlinear, non-ohmic current–voltage characteristic that is similar to that of a diode. In contrast to a diode however, it has the same characteristic for both directions of traversing current. At low voltage it has a high electrical resistance which decreases as the voltage is raised.
Varistors are used as control or compensation elements in circuits either to provide optimal operating conditions or to protect against excessive transient voltages. When used as protection devices, they shunt the current created by the excessive voltage away from sensitive components when triggered.
The development of the varistor, in the form of a new type of rectifier (copper oxide), originated in the work by L.O. Grondahl and P.H. Geiger in 1927. The name varistor is a portmanteau of varying resistor. The term is only used for non-ohmic varying resistors. Variable resistors, such as the potentiometer and the rheostat, have ohmic characteristics.