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Tutorial Second harmonic uxgate sensors and magnetometers

Jack M. Janicke

The second harmonic uxgate sensor is a relatively simple device which has been used extensively in many areas of our society for well over half a century. Its simplicity does not preclude the necessity for a great deal of care in the selection of its materials, the integrity of its design and the care with which it must be assembled. Rigid requirements for these parameters are required because of the minute magnetic quantities which these sensors are called on to measure. The key element in the sensor is the permalloy material. Permalloy is the name given to a nickel-iron alloy which exhibits a very high permeability and can be magnetically saturated by a relatively low magnetic eld, i.e. levels on the order of two oersteds. The material is annealed in a hydrogen atmosphere and must not have any physical stress imparted to it after annealing. It may consist of permalloy strips ranging in thickness from 1 mil to three or four mils, or permalloy strip having a thickness of 0.25 to 1mil wound on a stainless steel form in the shape of a torus. The toroid may range in size from less than one half inch to over one inch in diameter. The original uxgate design is illustrated in Figure 1. In the strip conguration the strips are enclosed in ceramic or phenolic tubes with primary windings, connected in series aiding, wound over the tubes. The secondary winding may be in either one of two congurations; individual windings connected in series opposition over each primary, or a single solenoidal winding over the paired together primaries. The wound strip assemblies are placed close together and may range in length from one inch to several inches. The ring-core uxgate follows the design illustrated in Figure 2. The primary is wound in a toroidal fashion over the permalloy torus. The secondary may be wound in either of two congurations. One method consists of two toroidal windings, each encompassing half of the torus and connected in series opposition. The second method utilizes a single solenoidal winding into which the wound toroid is inserted. In operation, the permalloy core is driven into magnetic saturation, cyclically, by means of an applied sine or square wave, having a frequency in the range of 1-20kHz. The optimum frequency will depend on the thickness of the core material and its cross-section. 225

The author Jack M. Janicke is president of Magnetic Research Inc., 122 Bellevue Avenue, Butler, New Jersey 07405, USA. Tel: +1 973 838 3668; E-mail: Abstract Describes the design and operating principles of uxgate sensors and magnetometers. Polarity determination and compensation for temperature and high frequency (> 100Hz) alternating magnetic elds are also discussed. Keywords Magnetic, Sensors

Sensor Review Volume 18 Number 4 1998 pp. 225229 MCB University Press ISSN 0260-2288

Second harmonic uxgate sensors and magnetometers

Sensor Review Volume 18 Number 4 1998 225229

Jack M. Janicke

Figure 1 Strip-type uxgate sensor





The uxgate senses the magnetic eld along its sense axis, as shown in the accompanying illustrations. Any deviation between the magnetic eld axis and the sensor axis will cause an error in measurement of the true value of the eld along its dominant axis. The error will bear a direct relation to the cosine of the angle between the two axes. The relation between the absolute eld and the off-angle eld may be determined by using the equation: H = H cosine where H = magnetic eld read by the sensor; H = the absolute value of the magnetic eld along its axis; = the angle formed by the eld axis and the sensor sense axis. Fluxgate sensors are generally limited to measuring a maximum magnetic eld strength of two oersteds. This is because the permalloy material saturates near this value of applied eld. Using appropriate amplication and detection circuits, the low end of their measurement scale is in the region of one gamma (1nT) or less. The lower limit is determined by noise generated in the uxgate element. Exhibiting a second harmonic uxgate sensor to relatively large magnetic elds, say seven oersteds or more, can cause the permalloy element to take a set, which is a condition where certain magnetically hard elements in the material, which are normally quiescent, become magnetized and retain some magnetization after the external eld is removed. This is tantamount to inserting tiny permanent magnets in the material. It is referred to as perming, i.e. the permalloy becomes magnetically distorted more or less permanently. The permed state is evident when the sensors zero output level changes. For example, a sensor which normally has an emf output of three millivolts with its sense axis aligned to zero eld (normally east-west) may exhibit a zero eld condition of ten or more millivolts after being permed. This condition may sometimes be corrected by turning the drive current to its primary on and off a few times, to see if the normal AC drive current is sufcient to demagnetize the offending portions of the material. If this does not correct the problem, an applied AC eld of 50 or 60Hz may be applied. This eld is usually generated by a large coil of wire, six or seven inches in diameter, which has sufcient line frequency 226

Figure 2 Toroidally wound ring-core uxgate





An emf, proportional to the amplitude of the magnetic eld along the sense axis, will be developed in the sensor secondary. The predominant voltage generated will have a frequency twice that of the drive frequency, i.e. the second harmonic. Smaller values of emf consisting of the drive frequency and other harmonics will also be evident. If the secondary is resonated at the second harmonic frequency by means of a capacitor, the emf will approximate a sine wave and will have a much greater amplitude than that obtained without the capacitor. The power requirements for the driving force are generally small; 60 milliwatts for a toroidal structure having a diameter of one half inch, for example. A structure of this size, and having a solenoidally wound secondary on the order of 500 turns of wire, will develop an emf of about one volt for a eld of one oersted along its sense axis. This presupposes that the secondary is capacitor resonated at the second harmonic frequency.

Second harmonic uxgate sensors and magnetometers

Sensor Review Volume 18 Number 4 1998 225229

Jack M. Janicke

current applied to generate an alternating magnetic eld of about ten oersteds. The coil is energized and the suspect uxgate sensor is brought to the coil center and then slowly removed until it is ve or more feet away. The demagnetizing coil may then have its current removed. The uxgate sensor can be used as a simple magnetometer by driving its primary with sufcient alternating current at the required frequency, terminating it for resonance with the proper capacitor and measuring its output with a high impedance AC voltmeter or an oscilloscope or both. This arrangement has obvious limitations when very low elds, 1,000 gamma (1,000nT) or less are to be observed. If, for example, the sensor has a sensitivity of 1volt per oersted then its output at 1,000 gamma will be only ten millivolts. When one considers that the residual noise generated by the fundamental frequency and various harmonics other than the second, this can result in a base error of 30 percent. Further, the bare element will not provide any indication of the magnetic polarity of the eld being measured. These problems can be easily overcome by using the circuit depicted in Figure 3. A resonating capacitor of appropriate value should be added across the sensor output in order to enhance the second harmonic signal. The synchronous detector enhances the fluxgate sensor in several ways. It provides a DC output of the measured magnetic quantity which also has polarity indication; for example, all positive indications may indicate a field of north pole polarity and negative indications a south pole. Further, by its

Figure 3 Typical uxgate magnetometer






very nature, the synchronous detector (or demodulator) senses only the second harmonic of the drive frequency. The synchronization signal is obtained by providing a frequency doubler circuit in the oscillator. This signal is fed to the detector and acts as the synchronizing medium. This means that any of the fundamental signal that is coupled into the sensor output is canceled, as are any of the various unwanted harmonics. Thus, a true zero emf output can be obtained when the sensor is aligned for zero field sensing. Zero adjustment is made by adjusting a potentiometer in the synchronous detector or in the DC amplifier or both. Adjusting the gain of the DC amplifier enables the output of the magnetometer to set be set to decade values if desired; i.e. a one oersted field sensed by the fluxgate can provide a DC output emf of one volt or ten volts, or whatever value is desired. When a fluxgate having low output sensitivity is used, it may be desirable to add a simple, inexpensive operational amplifier having a gain of five or so between the sensor output and the signal input to the synchronous detector. This would be the case when a sensor having a sensitivity on the order of 0.1 volt per oersted is used. This enables a respectable signal to be applied to the detector when very low fields on the order of ten or 20 gamma or less are to be measured. It also enables the gain of the more critical DC amplifier to be kept at low, minimizing drift in the amplifier due to temperature variations. A complete magnetometer of the type illustrated in Figure 3 will have a linearity on the order of a few tenths of a percent for fields up to 0.5 oersted. Linearity will decrease to perhaps as much as one percent between 0.5 and one oersted, with poorer results at higher field levels. The linearity will depend to a great degree on the design of the sensor. Temperature coefcients of the circuit may be as high as 0.35 percent/C, again depending on sensor design. The temperature coefcient and linearity drawbacks associated with the simple magnetometer of Figure 3 may be overcome by adding a simple feedback integrator circuit, resulting in the magnetometer illustrated in Figure 4. Here again, the output of the sensor should be resonated at the second harmonic frequency with an appropriate capacitor. In this conguration, the secondary sense


Second harmonic uxgate sensors and magnetometers

Sensor Review Volume 18 Number 4 1998 225229

Jack M. Janicke

Figure 4 Fluxgate magnetometer with feedback







Rf Vm

winding works in a dual capacity simultaneously; as a sense winding and as a feedback winding. In operation, the sensed magnetic AC signal is fed into the synchronous detector and exits as a DC signal which is amplied by the DC amplier. This DC value is then applied to the integrator whose DC output is fed back into the sense winding which also acts as a magnetic eld generating solenoid. In this manner the integrator feeds sufcient current into the winding to bring the signal output to zero. Under these conditions the permalloy core always sees zero eld when balance is reached. Since it always works under zero eld conditions, its normal linearity caused by variations in its magnetic induction vs applied eld is non-existent. Linearity of a few tenths of a percent or less can be obtained when measuring magnetic elds up to two oersteds. The output voltage output emf vs applied field is generated by the feedback current developed across the feedback resistor, Rf, and the resistive value of the sensor secondary winding. This feedback current, and thus the indicated emf, is in direct proportion to the eld applied to the sensor. Because there is a comparatively large resistor in series with the copper wire secondary winding, the t.c. effect of the copper is minimized. Instead of a temperature coefcient on the order of 0.35 percent/C (that of copper wire), the temperature effects of the sensor are reduced to a value of about 0.03 percent/C. Therefore, when optimum stability for a magnetometer is required, especially where there are ambient temperature changes, a feedback type of circuit is much to be desired. The loading

effects of the feedback circuit will reduce the output sensitivity of the uxgate sensor to some extent. However, this can be easily overcome by a bit of amplication. An AC operational amplier can be added between the sensor output and the synchronous detector input. A DC output magnetometer can also be used to measure low-level AC magnetic elds. The additional equipment which is required is a high impedance AC millivoltmeter which should be connected across the DC output of the instrument. Depending on the drive frequency of the sensor, elds up to 100Hz can be measured with relatively at output response. Fields from 100-1,000Hz will see the output decay approximately 2dB per each 100Hz rise in frequency. These empirical data were developed using a sensor having a 10kHz drive frequency. The terminology used in magnetic measurements can be confusing at times. While the Systeme International (SI) is the preferred mode, many texts and papers will use the long-established centimeter-gram-second (cgs) nomenclature in specifying magnetic quantities. For this reason it is deemed advisable to provide Table I, to enable a user of uxgate sensors to convert magnetic quantities between Tesla, Oersteds and Gammas. A further point of interest to the users of uxgate sensors is the level of the earths magnetic eld in their immediate area. This ambient level will vary widely, depending on the users location on the earth. Table II

Table I Tesla-Oersted-Gamma relationship

Tesla 1T 0.1 T (100 mT) 0.01 T (10 mT) 0.001 T (1 mT) 1 104 T (100 T) 1 105 T (10 T) 1 106 T (1 T) 1 107 T (100 nT) 1 108 T (10 nT) 1 109 T (1 nT) 1 1010 T (0.1 nT)

Oersted 10,000 Oe 1,000 Oe 100 Oe 10 Oe 1 Oe 100 mOe 10 mOe 1 mOe 100 Oe 10 Oe 1 Oe

Gamma 100,000 10,000 1,000 100 10 1 0.1

Key: T = Tesla; Oe = oersted; = gamma; m = milli; = micro; n = nano Note: In the cgs system, when the medium has a permeability of 1 (air or a vacuum) B = H; for example 1 Gauss = 1 Oersted


Second harmonic uxgate sensors and magnetometers

Sensor Review Volume 18 Number 4 1998 225229

Jack M. Janicke

provides a reasonable indication of the magnetic eld which may be expected for selected locations.

Table II Magnitude of the earths eld at selected locations

Location UK and Central Europe Eastern, Central and Western USA Southern USA Mexico and Northern Caribbean Central America and Southern Caribbean Scandinavian area Northern Australia Southern Australia and New Zealand Japan and Hawaii Central Africa Southern India and Burma Source: Jack M. Janicke

Nominal value in Oersteds Vertical Horizontal 0.45 0.50 0.45 0.40 0.30 0.50 0.30 0.50 0.40 0.20 0.20 0.25 0.30 0.30 0.13 0.35 0.25 0.28 0.35 0.40

The horizontal quantity is that which may be expected with a fluxgate sense axis in a horizontal plane and aligned with the magnetic north pole of the earth. The vertical quantity is that which will be indicated with the sense axis in a vertical plane, aligned with the field inclination commensurate with the latitude at which the measurement is being made. These figures do not take into consideration abnormalities which may be present due to deposits of ferrous ores. An inexpensive, 125-page text is available from Magnetic Research, Inc., 122 Bellevue Avenue, Butler NJ 07405, USA. E-mail: magres@webspan net; Tel: 973-838-3668. The Magnetic Measurements Handbook covers in great detail the fabrication of inexpensive, high sensitivity magnetometers using uxgate elements. Other types of magnetic measurement instruments are also fully described. The books table of contents is fully delineated in the companys web page: http://www.