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Additional Notes (Electric and Magnetic Fields)

Electric motors
The common electromagnetic machines are motors, generators and transformers. All three are described in this episode but you will need to check your specification to find out which you need to cover and in what detail.

Motor torque
From this practical work (and previous knowledge), it should be clear to your students that a simple motor is a (rectangular) coil of wire that rotates in a magnetic field when a current is passed through the coil.

rubber bands


insulating tape


The diagram shows a section through a coil that is pivoted at so that it can turn about a horizontal axis. The coil has sides of length L and a width w, so that its area is A. There are N turns of wire in the coil carrying a current I. B is the flux density between the magnetic poles.


N 1

S 1

N 2

The force F on each side of the coil is F = NBIL

The direction of the forces is found by Fleming's left hand rule and the two forces together produce a couple. The torque produced = 2 (F w/2) = NBILw = NBIA This picture is only valid if B is uniform and B and I are perpendicular. The design of commercial motors tries to make this true for a significant part of the rotation by including a lot of shaped soft iron, both in the armature and in the pole pieces. At the same time this increases the value of B. The current has to be reversed each time the coil is perpendicular to the field so that the forces reverse and the circular motion is maintained. A commutator and brushes are used for this.

Generators and transformers

In a generator, motion of a conductor in a magnetic field induces an emf. In a transformer, it is the changing field that induces an emf in a fixed conductor.

The structure of a simple generator is essentially the same as a motor. The difference is that now mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy. The electrical current to a load is via a commutator for an ac generator or slip rings if ac is required. Basic ideas can be understood by thinking about a coil rotating in a uniform magnetic field.



Consider a coil of area A with N turns of wire rotating at a constant angular velocity in a uniform magnetic flux density B. As the coil rotates, it cuts through the lines of flux. Another way to express this is to say that the flux linking the coil is changing. At what point is the rate of flux-cutting greatest? (When it is horizontal in the diagram above; when it is vertical, the rate of flux cutting is instantaneously zero.) Rate of flux cutting = induced emf = BANcos t with a maximum value, Eo = BAN when the coil is parallel to the field.

Experiments with transformers can be used as a way of investigating and confirming the laws of electromagnetic induction and could be done earlier. This work can also be a means of rounding off the whole of this section of post-16 work. Primary coil NP turns Current, IP Secondary coil NS turns Current, IS

ac Input, VP

ac Output, VS

soft iron core The aim is to show that a transformer is an electrical machine that converts one ac voltage into another ac voltage. Working through parts or all of the following presentation will illustrate both the structure and the operation of a transformer.

Working Principle
When an electric current passes through a long, hollow coil of wire there will be a strong magnetic field inside the coil and a weaker field outside it. The lines of the magnetic field pattern run through the coil, spread out from the end, and go round the outside and in at the other end.

These are not real lines like the ones you draw with a pencil. They are lines that we imagine, as in the sketch, to show the pattern of the magnetic field: the direction in which a sample of iron would be magnetised by the field. Where the field is strongest, the lines are most closely crowded. With a hollow coil the lines form complete rings. If there is an iron core in the coil it becomes magnetised, and seems to make the field become much stronger while the current is on.

The iron core of a transformer is normally a complete ring with two coils wound on it. One is connected to a source of electrical power and is called the 'primary coil'; the other supplies the power to a load and is called the 'secondary coil'. The magnetisation due to the current in the primary coil runs all the way round the ring. The primary and secondary coils can be wound anywhere on the ring, because the iron carries the changes in magnetisation from one coil to the other. There is no electrical connection between the two coils. However they are connected by the magnetic field in the iron core. When there is a steady current in the primary there is no effect in the secondary, but there is an effect in the secondary if the current in the primary is changing. A changing current in the primary induces an e.m.f. in the secondary. If the secondary is connected to a circuit then there is a current flow. A step-down transformer of 1,200 turns on the primary coil connected to 240 V a.c. will produce 2 V a.c. across a 10-turn secondary (provided the energy losses are minimal) and so light a 2 V lamp. A step-up transformer with 1,000 turns on the primary fed by 200 V a.c. and a 10,000-turn secondary will give a voltage of 2,000 V a.c.

The iron core is itself a crude secondary (like a coil of one turn) and changes of primary current induce little circular voltages in the core. Iron is a conductor and if the iron core were solid, the induced voltages would drive wasteful secondary currents in it (called 'eddy currents'). So the core is made of very thin sheets clamped together, with the face of each sheet coated to make it a poor conductor. The edges of the sheets can be seen by looking at the edges of a transformer core.