What is Magnetism?

Magnetism has been known to man as far back as the beginning of recorded history (around 600BC). The Greeks and Romans made detailed observations of magnetism and tried to explain the phenomenon.

In the modern day, we can say magnetism is a force of attraction or repulsion which is produced by an electric charge.

Magnetic Fields

Magnetic fields can be defined as follows:

“A magnetic field describes the area around a magnet that causes an object in that space to experience a force only due to the presence of the magnet.”

Magnetic fields are represented by lines drawn around the magnet as shown below. The arrows indicate the direction of the magnetic field and the closer the field lines are together, the stronger the field.

Bar Magnet

Horseshoe Magnet

Like Poles Repel

Circular Magnet

Remember - Like poles repel; opposite poles attract

Magnetic Effect of a Current

When a wire is carrying an electrical current, a magnetic field is created. To solve certain problems, we often need to find the direction of the magnetic field. To determine the field direction, the “Right hand grip rule” should be applied.

Right hand grip rule

Hold your right hand around the wire with your thumb pointing in the direction of the current (current flows from the positive terminal to the negative terminal). Your fingers are now curling around the wire in the direction of the magnetic field. See the diagram below:

Magnetic Force on an Electrical Current

If a current in a wire produces a magnetic field, then according to Newtons Third Law of Motion, a magnetic field must exert a magnetic force on the current carrying wire.

To determine the size and force of this, we can use the formula, where:

Magnetic force on a current (F) = number of wires (n) ×  current in each wire (I) × length of wire (L) × strength of magnetic field (B)

F = n × I × L × B

The units for the above formula are:

1 Newton = 1 × 1 ampre × 1 metre × 1 tesla

The force of the magnetic field will be strongest when it is perpendicular to the wire. As the magnetic force travels towards being parallel with the wire, the force will decrease until it becomes 0.

Example 1:

A straight wire which is 30cm long carries a current of 250mA and has a magnetic field strength of 0.25T. The magnetic field is perpendicular to the wire. What is the force that is exerted upon the wire?

Step 1: Write the formula:

F = n × I × L × B

Step 2: Sub the values into the formula:

F = 1 × 0.25 × 0.3 × 0.25

F = 0.019N

Left Hand Rule

The “Left hand rule” is used to determine the direction of the magnetic force of a magnetic field on a current. To use the left hand rule, we need to follow the steps below:

Step 1: The index finger represents the magnetic field (B) and points straight ahead.

Step 2: The middle finger represents the current (I) and is at right angles with the index finger.

Step 3: The thumb represents the force (F) and should be upright and at right angles to the index and middle fingers.

Step4: While keeping your fingers locked in the position below, rotate you hand so the magnetic field and current line up with the question you are solving. Your thumb will now be pointing in the direction of the force.

DC Motors

A DC motor is a device that converts electrical energy into kinetic energy from a battery to create a magnetic field in a coil. The current in the coil creates a magnetic field which creates a force with the permanent magnets. This in turn rotates the central shaft.

As can be seen in the diagram below, DC motors use what is called a “split ring commutator”. The commutator is simply two circular pieces of metal attached to the motor shaft with a small air gap insulating them from each other. This allows the current to reverse when the coil is vertical and can then proceed another 180°. If a split ring commutator was not used, then the motor would rotate until the coil was vertical and would then stop.

Need more help?

If you need more help on this topic, you can book a lesson with one of our Physics tutors. Pay-as-you-go lessons with no minimum number of sessions.

Lessons are held over Skype and FaceTime. Click on the button below to book a lesson

Shopping Cart