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Magnetic Materials Help

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Introduction

Some substances cause magnetic lines of flux to bunch closer together than they are in the air; other materials cause the lines of flux to spread farther apart. The first kind of material is ferromagnetic. Substances of this type are, as we have discussed already, “magnetizable.” The other kind of material is called diamagnetic . Wax, dry wood, bismuth, and silver are examples of substances that decrease magnetic flux density. No diamagnetic material reduces the strength of a magnetic field by anywhere near the factor that ferromagnetic substances can increase it.

The magnetic characteristics of a substance or medium can be quantified in two important but independent ways: permeability and retentivity .

Permeability

Permeability, symbolized by the lowercase Greek mu (μ), is measured on a scale relative to a vacuum, or free space. A perfect vacuum is assigned, by convention, a permeability figure of exactly 1. If current is forced through a wire loop or coil in air, then the flux density in and around the coil is about the same as it would be in a vacuum. Therefore, the permeability of pure air is about equal to 1. If you place an iron core in the coil, the flux density increases by a factor ranging from a few dozen to several thousand times, depending on the purity of the iron. The permeability of iron can be as low as about 60 (impure) to as high as about 8,000 (highly refined).

If you use special metallic alloys called permalloys as the core material in electromagnets, you can increase the flux density, and therefore the local strength of the field, by as much as 1 million (10 6 ) times. Such substances thus have permeability as great as 10 6 .

If, for some reason, you feel compelled to make an electromagnet that is as weak as possible, you can use dry wood or wax for the core material. Usually, however, diamagnetic substances are used to keep magnetic objects apart while minimizing the interaction between them.

Retentivity

Certain ferromagnetic materials stay magnetized better than others. When a substance such as iron is subjected to a magnetic field as intense as it can handle, say, by enclosing it in a wire coil carrying a high current, there will be some residual magnetism left when the current stops flowing in the coil. Retentivity, also sometimes called remanence , is a measure of how well a substance can “memorize” a magnetic field imposed on it and thereby become a permanent magnet.

Retentivity is expressed as a percentage. If the maximum possible flux density in a material is x teslas or gauss and then goes down to y teslas or gauss when the current is removed, the retentivity B r of that material is given by the following formula:

B r = 100 y/x

What is meant by maximum possible flux density in the foregoing definition? This is an astute question. In the real world, if you make an electromagnet with a core material, there is a limit to the flux density that can be generated in that core. As the current in the coil increases, the flux density inside the core goes up in proportion—for awhile. Beyond a certain point, however, the flux density levels off, and further increases in current do not produce any further increase in the flux density. This condition is called core saturation . When we determine retentivity for a material, we are referring to the ratio of the flux density when it is saturated and the flux density when there is no magnetomotive force acting on it.

As an example, suppose that a metal rod can be magnetized to 135 G when it is enclosed by a coil carrying an electric current. Imagine that this is the maximum possible flux density that the rod can be forced to have. For any substance, there is always such a maximum; further increasing the current in the wire will not make the rod any more magnetic. Now suppose that the current is shut off and that 19 G remain in the rod. Then the retentivity B r is

B r = 100 × 19/135 = 100 × 0.14 = 14 percent

Certain ferromagnetic substances have good retentivity and are excellent for making permanent magnets. Other ferromagnetic materials have poor retentivity. They can work well as the cores of electromagnets, but they do not make good permanent magnets. Sometimes it is desirable to have a substance with good ferromagnetic properties but poor retentivity. This is the case when you want to have an electromagnet that will operate from dc so that it maintains a constant polarity but that will lose its magnetism when the current is shut off.

If a ferromagnetic substance has poor retentivity, it’s easy to make it work as the core for an ac electromagnet because the polarity is easy to switch. However, if the retentivity is high, the material is “magnetically sluggish” and has trouble following the current reversals in the coil. This sort of stuff doesn’t function well as the core of an ac electromagnet.

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