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A small magnetic field is created around the conductor with the direction of this magnetic field with regards to its “North” and “South” poles being determined by the direction of the current flowing through the conductor.

Magnetism plays an important role in Electrical and Electronic Engineering because without it components such as relays, solenoids, inductors, chokes, coils, loudspeakers, motors, generators, transformers, and electricity meters etc, would not work if magnetism did not exist.

Then every coil of wire uses the effect of electromagnetism when an electrical current flows through it. But before we can look at Magnetism and especially Electromagnetism in more detail we need to remember back to our physics classes of how magnets and magnetism works.

The Nature of Magnetism

Magnets can be found in a natural state in the form of a magnetic ore, with the two main types being Magnetite also called “iron oxide”, ( FE3O4 ) and Lodestone, also called “leading stone”. If these two natural magnets are suspended from a piece of string, they will take up a position in-line with the Earth’s magnetic field always pointing north.

A good example of this effect is the needle of a compass. For most practical applications these natural occurring magnets can be disregarded as their magnetism is very low and because nowadays, man-made artificial magnets can be produced in many different shapes, sizes and magnetic strengths.

There are basically two forms of magnetism, “Permanent Magnets” and “Temporary Magnets”, with the type being used dependant upon its application. There are many different types of materials available to make magnets such as iron, nickel, nickel alloys, chromium and cobalt and in their natural state some of these elements such as nickel and cobalt show very poor magnetic quantities on their own.

However, when mixed or “alloyed” together with other materials such as iron or aluminium peroxide they become very strong magnets producing unusual names such as “alcomax”, “hycomax”, “alni” and “alnico”.

Magnetic material in the non-magnetic state has its molecular structure in the form of loose magnetic chains or individual tiny magnets loosely arranged in a random pattern. The overall effect of this type of arrangement results in zero or very weak magnetism as this haphazard arrangement of each molecular magnet tends to neutralise its neighbour.

When the material is Magnetised this random arrangement of the molecules changes and the tiny unaligned and random molecular magnets become “lined-up” in such a way that they produce a series magnetic arrangement. This idea of the molecular alignment of ferromagnetic materials is known as Weber’s Theory and is illustrated below.

Magnetic Molecule Alignment of a Piece of Iron and a Magnet

magnetic molecules

Weber’s theory is based on the fact that all atoms have magnetic properties due to the spinning action of the atoms electrons. Groups of atoms join together so that their magnetic fields are all rotating in the same direction. Magnetic materials are composed of groups of tiny magnets at a molecular level around the atoms, and a magnetised material will have most of its tiny magnets lined up in one direction only to produce a north pole in one direction and a south pole in the other direction.

Likewise, a material that has its tiny molecular magnets pointing in all directions will have its molecular magnets neutralised by its neighbouring magnet, thereby neutralising any magnetic effect. These areas of molecular magnets are called “domains”.

Any magnetic material will produce a magnetic field itself which depends on the degree of alignment of magnetic domains in the material set up by orbital and spinning electrons. This degree of alignment can be specified by a quantity known as magnetisation, M.

In an unmagnetised material, M = 0, but some of the domains remain aligned over small regions in the material once the magnetic field is removed. The effect of applying a magnetising force to the material is to align some of the domains to produce a non-zero magnetisation value.

Once the magnetising force has been removed, the magnetism within the material will either remain or decay away quiet quickly depending on the magnetic material being used. This ability of a material to retain its magnetism is called Retentivity.

Materials which are required to retain their magnetism will have a fairly high retentivity and as such are used to make permanent magnets, while those materials required to lose their magnetism quickly such as soft iron cores for relays and solenoids will have a very low retentivity.

Magnetic Flux

All magnets, no matter what their shape, have two regions called magnetic poles with the magnetism both in and around a magnetic circuit producing a definite chain of organised and balanced pattern of invisible lines of flux around it. These lines of flux are collectively referred to as the “magnetic field” of the magnet. The shape of this magnetic field is more intense in some parts than others with the area of the magnet that has the greatest magnetism being called “poles”. At each end of a magnet is a pole.

These lines of flux (called a vector field) can not be seen by the naked eye, but they can be seen visually by using iron fillings sprinkled onto a sheet of paper or by using a small compass to trace them out. Magnetic poles are always present in pairs, there is always a region of the magnet called the North-pole and there is always an opposite region called the South-pole.

Magnetic fields are always shown visually as lines of force that give a definite pole at each end of the material where the flux lines are more dense and concentrated. The lines which go to make up a magnetic field showing the direction and intensity are called Lines of Force or more commonly “Magnetic Flux” and are given the Greek symbol, Phi ( Φ ) as shown below.

Lines of Force from a Bar Magnets Magnetic Field

lines of magnetic force

As shown above, the magnetic field is strongest near to the poles of the magnet were the lines of flux are more closely spaced. The general direction for the magnetic flux flow is from the North ( N ) to the South ( S ) pole. In addition, these magnetic lines form closed loops that leave at the north pole of the magnet and enter at the south pole. Magnetic poles are always in pairs.

However, magnetic flux does not actually flow from the north to the south pole or flow anywhere for that matter as magnetic flux is a static region around a magnet in which the magnetic force exists. In other words magnetic flux does not flow or move it is just there and is not influenced by gravity. Some important facts emerge when plotting lines of force:

  • Lines of force NEVER cross.
  • Lines of force are CONTINUOUS.
  • Lines of force always form individual CLOSED LOOPS around the magnet.
  • Lines of force have a definite DIRECTION from North to South.
  • Lines of force that are close together indicate a STRONG magnetic field.
  • Lines of force that are farther apart indicate a WEAK magnetic field.

Magnetic forces attract and repel like electric forces and when two lines of force are brought close together the interaction between the two magnetic fields causes one of two things to occur:

  • 1.  –  When adjacent poles are the same, (north-north or south-south) they REPEL each other.
  • 2.  –  When adjacent poles are not the same, (north-south or south-north) they ATTRACT each other.

This effect is easily remembered by the famous expression that “opposites attract” and this interaction of magnetic fields can be easily demonstrated using iron fillings to show the lines of force around a magnet. The effect upon the magnetic fields of the various combinations of poles as like poles repel and unlike poles attract can be seen below.

Magnetic Field of Like and Unlike Poles

magnetic poles

When plotting magnetic field lines with a compass it will be seen that the lines of force are produced in such a way as to give a definite pole at each end of the magnet where the lines of force leave the North pole and re-enter at the South pole. Magnetism can be destroyed by heating or hammering the magnetic material, but cannot be destroyed or isolated by simply breaking the magnet into two pieces.

So if you take a normal bar magnet and break it into two pieces, you do not have two halves of a magnet but instead each broken piece will somehow have its own North pole and a South pole. If you take one of those pieces and break it into two again, each of the smaller pieces will have a North pole and a South pole and so on. No matter how small the pieces of the magnet become, each piece will still have a North pole and a South pole, crazy!

Then in order for us to make use of magnetism in electrical or electronic calculations, it is necessary to define what are the various aspects of magnetism.

The Magnitude of Magnetism

We now know that the lines of force or more commonly the magnetic flux around a magnetic material is given the Greek symbol, Phi, ( Φ ) with the unit of flux being the Weber, ( Wb ) after Wilhelm Eduard Weber. But the number of lines of force within a given unit area is called the “Flux Density” and since flux ( Φ ) is measured in ( Wb ) and area ( A ) in metres squared, ( m2 ), flux density is therefore measured in Webers/Metre2 or ( Wb/m2 ) and is given the symbol B.

However, when referring to flux density in magnetism, flux density is given the unit of the Tesla after Nikola Tesla so therefore one Wb/m2 is equal to one Tesla, 1Wb/m2 = 1T. Flux density is proportional to the lines of force and inversely proportional to area so we can define Flux Density as:

Magnetic Flux Density

magnetic flux density

The symbol for magnetic flux density is B and the unit of magnetic flux density is the Tesla, T.

Flux Density Equation

It is important to remember that all calculations for flux density are done in the same units, e.g., flux in webers, area in m2 and flux density in Teslas.

Magnetism Example No1

The amount of flux present in a round magnetic bar was measured at 0.013 webers. If the material has a diameter of 12cm, calculate the flux density.

The cross sectional area of the magnetic material in m2 is given as:

magnetism cross section

The magnetic flux is given as 0.013 webers, therefore the flux density can be calculated as:

flux density

So the flux density is calculated as 1.15 Teslas.

When dealing with magnetism in electrical circuits it must be remembered that one Tesla is the density of a magnetic field such that a conductor carrying 1 ampere at right angles to the magnetic field experiences a force of one newton-metre length on it and this will be demonstrated in the next tutorial about Electromagnetism.


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