What is an electromagnet in physics and what are its applications in daily life?
Since electricity was discovered a little over a century ago, inventions and advances have not stopped growing, giving way to endless applications. Today we have many devices that work with this type of energy and that, in general, we tend to be unaware of its operation. From something as complex as an industrial power supply, to the simple one battery operation.
But what about electromagnets? Believe it or not, the functionalities and uses that these devices have are numerous. Today we will talk about the most important aspects of an electromagnet. You will know both its most outstanding characteristics, even the relationship between a magnet and a magnetic field among many other points that we will see below.
definition of electromagnet
It is a specific type of magnet which generates a magnetic field based on the amount of electric current that flows through it. That is, depending on the amount of electrical energy flowing through the magnet, it will generate more or less a magnetic field. Of course, aspects such as the purity of the material, its size, conductivity, among others, also influence.
This simple fact allows us to control the behavior of the electromagnet. In such a way, you can get a large magnetic field or something much more precise and concentrated. However, this is not applicable to all situations, since it is sometimes necessary have a stable and constant magnetic fieldso a permanent magnet is the most suitable.
It is important to mention that, at the moment of stopping supplying electrical energy, the magnetic field disappears. That is to say, that one depends on the other to be able to be produced. On the other hand, the magnetic fields are not always the same, despite the fact that electrical energy is used to generate them. Therefore, there are electromagnets that work with circular current, with direct current, with rectangular waves, among others.
What is the utility of an electromagnet?
The main utility that can be given to these devices is to provide a variable magnetic field depending on the amount of electrical current that is supplied to it. Of course, for this, it is essential that the person knows how an electromagnet works, since, from there, the applications can vary in scale. Its usefulness can be something as simple as that of do a physical experiment in a laboratoryto using scientific principles to drive a life-size train.
Now, this is just one of its many features. For example, an electromagnet can be used to find out what are the magnetic properties of a material or element. The advantage it provides us is such that this same principle can be applied to materials at the micro or nano level. In this way, it is possible to carry out studies of magnetism on specific particles or larger materials.
In the technological and communications aspect, these types of magnets are necessary, since they allow an excellent magnetic flux. Despite not being constant in all directions, where they are used they do maintain a certain degree of stability and constancy. All this taking into account the flow of current or electrical energy.
How is an electromagnet to drive a train?
Now that you are clear that it is an electromagnet, it is time to move on to something more complex in terms of its different applications. It happens that certain train systems in the world use the principle of the electromagnet to be able to transport a vehicle of such proportions. What is present in this transportation system is something known as the magnetic levitation principle.
In order to drive a train of these, it is necessary that there are two magnets with different polarities. That is There are two electromagnets with such a power level, which by repulsion and attraction can generate movement in a vehicle of such magnitude. On the one hand, there is repulsion, which is responsible for raising the train a few centimeters. However, there is also a constant attraction that makes him move. Now, in terms of shape, it has to have an elongated rectangular shape in order to use it as a train track or path. So it is not very wide, but it does have a great length.
How does an electromagnet work?
Like many electrical conductors, an electromagnet works on the same principle. In other words, it is an element that, by making an electric current circulate through it, generates a magnetic field proportional to the intensity or amount of energy. This one doesn’t have to be exactly like the magnet we all know. this can be a simple wire ropewith the difference that it will have a kind of winding, just as if it were an inductor.
You can do something homemade and obtain an electromagnet, however, it has to be with specific materials to achieve the desired effects. That is, it is possible to achieve a higher intensity of the magnetic field if you decide use a ferromagnetic or paramagnetic core. This will make the generated field more intense and in a way, more efficient.
What is the difference between an electromagnet and a magnet?
Knowing the definition and concept behind an electromagnet, it is a little easier to define the difference between it and a common magnet. The main difference is that a magnet is a material that has a certain degree of magnetism. That is to say, it does not require to circulate a electric current to get that magnetic property. On the other hand, an electromagnet is an electrically conductive material that by itself does not have the ability to generate a magnetic field.
With this we try to say that the most notable differences are reduced to the following points:
- Magnets are materials that have natural magnetism.
- The electromagnets depend on electric current.
- An electromagnet may have a greater capacity to generate magnetic fields, since they are variable and this parameter or magnitude can be modified.
- Magnets maintain their properties permanently, while an electromagnet is only temporary.
- Magnets have the ability to lose their magnetism only when subjected to high temperatures.
- The production cost of a electromagnet is cost-effective and economical. It is for this reason that simple applications are attributed to it, unless it is produced on a large scale to the point of levitating and moving a train.
- It is possible to control the magnetic field of an electromagnet by manipulating the flow of electricity that runs through the material.
- The polarity of the electromagnets is variable, since it depends on the direction in which it is made. flow electric current. On the other hand, a permanent magnet already has defined magnetism and it is not possible to change it.
What are the types of electromagnet that exist?
All electromagnets have the same nature, that is, they cannot be found naturally in the world, so it is a artificial manufacture of man. It is thanks to this simple detail that, to date, three types of electromagnets have been developed:
- The ones that are made with ferromagnetic materials.
- Those that work with diamagnetism.
- Those that operate under the principle of paramagnetism.
In general, these types of magnets use metals such as iron or steel to generate a magnetic field. However, this is not limited to these only two options, since more or less powerful effects can be achieved in function of the conductivity of the material to be used.
What are the characteristics of an electromagnet?
To fully understand how an electromagnet works, it is important to know the characteristics of these materials. As already mentioned, their main characteristic is that they have the ability to generate a magnetic field. The power or range that it has will depend mainly on the amount of electrical energy that circulates through them.
Another characteristic is that they do not always have the same orientation or direction. That is to say, if you make current flow in one way, you are polarizing the material in one way, but if you make a change in polarization, the magnetic field will also be affected. So, you can control the influence of the electromagnet on metallic materials. Some examples that we can give you are computer hard drives, which base their operation on the principle of electromagnetism in physics.
If you want some clearer examples of the applications of electromagnets, we can give you the following:
- They are useful for lifting large amounts of metal material and having better control. Mainly used in the industrial field.
- Electric motors are a clear example of its use.
- Electric generators also have a system based on electromagnets.
What is the relationship between an electromagnet and a magnetic field?
Electricity, a conductive material and a coil make it possible to obtain a proportional relationship with the magnetic. That is to say, that magnetism only has an act of presence when it is done flow of electrons through a conducting material in the form of a solenoid. Imagine that you have a pencil (iron) and you wind a copper wire on it. This is called a solenoid and when you induce electric current on one of its sides, the path through it generates a magnetic field. That is, you have an input current, an output current and a result that translates into the attraction of metallic materials.
When you cut off the power supply, you are cutting off the activity of atoms and the atomic nucleus of the elements of the material returns to its natural state. That is why there is no longer a magnetic field around the material. This is how it is done to generate magnetism at home.
How big is an electromagnet?
Regarding the size of an electromagnet, it will depend on the applications that are planned. For example, if we seek to obtain an electronic device for data storage (mechanical hard drives), the electromagnet can perfectly fit in the palm of an adult’s hand. Now, if we increase the scale, the size can be so big that it can be able to lift tons of metallic material, such as magnets in industrial scrap yards.
And if you want to take it a little further, you have the clear example of trains that work with electromagnets. However, these are not characterized by their size, but rather by their length.