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The figure shows eddy currents induced in a slotted metal plate entering a magnetic field whose direction is shown as directed into the paper. The eddy currents are shown as small circular loops in line in each slot of the plate. The eddy currents are in such a way that neighboring loops in a single slot have currents in opposite direction. An enlarged view of two neighboring eddy currents in a slot is also shown.
Eddy currents induced in a slotted metal plate entering a magnetic field form small loops, and the forces on them tend to cancel, thereby making magnetic drag almost zero.

Applications of magnetic damping

One use of magnetic damping is found in sensitive laboratory balances. To have maximum sensitivity and accuracy, the balance must be as friction-free as possible. But if it is friction-free, then it will oscillate for a very long time. Magnetic damping is a simple and ideal solution. With magnetic damping, drag is proportional to speed and becomes zero at zero velocity. Thus the oscillations are quickly damped, after which the damping force disappears, allowing the balance to be very sensitive. (See [link] .) In most balances, magnetic damping is accomplished with a conducting disc that rotates in a fixed field.

The figure shows a sensitive simple balance. The needle of this balance is held between the pole pieces of a magnet. The magnetic field direction is shown toward the plane of the paper. An enlarged view of the needle of balance and the magnets is also shown. The needle is shown as free to oscillate to and fro between the pole pieces of the magnet.
Magnetic damping of this sensitive balance slows its oscillations. Since Faraday’s law of induction gives the greatest effect for the most rapid change, damping is greatest for large oscillations and goes to zero as the motion stops.

Since eddy currents and magnetic damping occur only in conductors, recycling centers can use magnets to separate metals from other materials. Trash is dumped in batches down a ramp, beneath which lies a powerful magnet. Conductors in the trash are slowed by magnetic damping while nonmetals in the trash move on, separating from the metals. (See [link] .) This works for all metals, not just ferromagnetic ones. A magnet can separate out the ferromagnetic materials alone by acting on stationary trash.

A picture of a tipper truck unloading the trash down a ramp is shown. There is a rectangular block of magnet half way across the ramp with the north pole facing the ramp for separating metals from other trash by magnetic drag.
Metals can be separated from other trash by magnetic drag. Eddy currents and magnetic drag are created in the metals sent down this ramp by the powerful magnet beneath it. Nonmetals move on.

Other major applications of eddy currents are in metal detectors and braking systems in trains and roller coasters. Portable metal detectors ( [link] ) consist of a primary coil carrying an alternating current and a secondary coil in which a current is induced. An eddy current will be induced in a piece of metal close to the detector which will cause a change in the induced current within the secondary coil, leading to some sort of signal like a shrill noise. Braking using eddy currents is safer because factors such as rain do not affect the braking and the braking is smoother. However, eddy currents cannot bring the motion to a complete stop, since the force produced decreases with speed. Thus, speed can be reduced from say 20 m/s to 5 m/s, but another form of braking is needed to completely stop the vehicle. Generally, powerful rare earth magnets such as neodymium magnets are used in roller coasters. [link] shows rows of magnets in such an application. The vehicle has metal fins (normally containing copper) which pass through the magnetic field slowing the vehicle down in much the same way as with the pendulum bob shown in [link] .

]Photograph of several soldiers in an open field. One soldier is searching for explosives by scanning the surface using a metal detector.
A soldier in Iraq uses a metal detector to search for explosives and weapons. (credit: U.S. Army)
Photograph of a roller coaster track with rows of magnets protruding horizontally that are used for magnetic braking in roller coasters.
The rows of rare earth magnets (protruding horizontally) are used for magnetic braking in roller coasters. (credit: Stefan Scheer, Wikimedia Commons)

Induction cooktops have electromagnets under their surface. The magnetic field is varied rapidly producing eddy currents in the base of the pot, causing the pot and its contents to increase in temperature. Induction cooktops have high efficiencies and good response times but the base of the pot needs to be ferromagnetic, iron or steel for induction to work.

Section summary

  • Current loops induced in moving conductors are called eddy currents.
  • They can create significant drag, called magnetic damping.

Conceptual questions

Explain why magnetic damping might not be effective on an object made of several thin conducting layers separated by insulation.

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Explain how electromagnetic induction can be used to detect metals? This technique is particularly important in detecting buried landmines for disposal, geophysical prospecting and at airports.

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Problems&Exercises

Make a drawing similar to [link] , but with the pendulum moving in the opposite direction. Then use Faraday’s law, Lenz’s law, and RHR-1 to show that magnetic force opposes motion.

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Figure shows the five stages of a single loop coil moved into and then out of a uniform magnetic field from left to right. It shows five stages a to d. The magnetic field B out is in a rectangular region and directed out of the paper. In stage a, the single loop coil is outside the magnetic field on the left side. In stage b, the single loop coil is partially inside the fields. In stage c, the single loop coil is fully inside the magnetic field. In stage d, the single loop coil is partially outside the magnetic field. In stage e, the single loop coil is fully outside the magnetic field now on the right.
A coil is moved into and out of a region of uniform magnetic field.

A coil is moved through a magnetic field as shown in [link] . The field is uniform inside the rectangle and zero outside. What is the direction of the induced current and what is the direction of the magnetic force on the coil at each position shown?

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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