Physics » Electromagnetic Induction and AC Circuits » Faraday’s Law of Induction: Lenz’s Law

Applications of Electromagnetic Induction

Applications of Electromagnetic Induction

There are many applications of Faraday’s Law of induction, as we will explore in this tutorial and others. At this juncture, let us mention several that have to do with data storage and magnetic fields. A very important application has to do with audio and video recording tapes. A plastic tape, coated with iron oxide, moves past a recording head. This recording head is basically a round iron ring about which is wrapped a coil of wire—an electromagnet (this figure). A signal in the form of a varying input current from a microphone or camera goes to the recording head. These signals (which are a function of the signal amplitude and frequency) produce varying magnetic fields at the recording head. As the tape moves past the recording head, the magnetic field orientations of the iron oxide molecules on the tape are changed thus recording the signal. In the playback mode, the magnetized tape is run past another head, similar in structure to the recording head. The different magnetic field orientations of the iron oxide molecules on the tape induces an emf in the coil of wire in the playback head. This signal then is sent to a loudspeaker or video player.

Similar principles apply to computer hard drives, except at a much faster rate. Here recordings are on a coated, spinning disk. Read heads historically were made to work on the principle of induction. However, the input information is carried in digital rather than analog form – a series of 0’s or 1’s are written upon the spinning hard drive. Today, most hard drive readout devices do not work on the principle of induction, but use a technique known as giant magnetoresistance. (The discovery that weak changes in a magnetic field in a thin film of iron and chromium could bring about much larger changes in electrical resistance was one of the first large successes of nanotechnology.) Another application of induction is found on the magnetic stripe on the back of your personal credit card as used at the grocery store or the ATM machine. This works on the same principle as the audio or video tape mentioned in the last paragraph in which a head reads personal information from your card.

Another application of electromagnetic induction is when electrical signals need to be transmitted across a barrier. Consider the cochlear implant shown below. Sound is picked up by a microphone on the outside of the skull and is used to set up a varying magnetic field. A current is induced in a receiver secured in the bone beneath the skin and transmitted to electrodes in the inner ear. Electromagnetic induction can be used in other instances where electric signals need to be conveyed across various media.

Another contemporary area of research in which electromagnetic induction is being successfully implemented (and with substantial potential) is transcranial magnetic simulation. A host of disorders, including depression and hallucinations can be traced to irregular localized electrical activity in the brain. In transcranial magnetic stimulation, a rapidly varying and very localized magnetic field is placed close to certain sites identified in the brain. Weak electric currents are induced in the identified sites and can result in recovery of electrical functioning in the brain tissue.

Sleep apnea (“the cessation of breath”) affects both adults and infants (especially premature babies and it may be a cause of sudden infant deaths [SID]). In such individuals, breath can stop repeatedly during their sleep. A cessation of more than 20 seconds can be very dangerous. Stroke, heart failure, and tiredness are just some of the possible consequences for a person having sleep apnea. The concern in infants is the stopping of breath for these longer times. One type of monitor to alert parents when a child is not breathing uses electromagnetic induction. A wire wrapped around the infant’s chest has an alternating current running through it. The expansion and contraction of the infant’s chest as the infant breathes changes the area through the coil. A pickup coil located nearby has an alternating current induced in it due to the changing magnetic field of the initial wire. If the child stops breathing, there will be a change in the induced current, and so a parent can be alerted.

Making Connections: Conservation of Energy

Lenz’s law is a manifestation of the conservation of energy. The induced emf produces a current that opposes the change in flux, because a change in flux means a change in energy. Energy can enter or leave, but not instantaneously. Lenz’s law is a consequence. As the change begins, the law says induction opposes and, thus, slows the change. In fact, if the induced emf were in the same direction as the change in flux, there would be a positive feedback that would give us free energy from no apparent source—conservation of energy would be violated.

Example: Calculating Emf: How Great Is the Induced Emf?


Calculate the magnitude of the induced emf when the magnet in this figure (a) from Faraday’s and Lenz’s Law is thrust into the coil, given the following information: the single loop coil has a radius of 6.00 cm and the average value of \(B\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{cos}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\theta \) (this is given, since the bar magnet’s field is complex) increases from 0.0500 T to 0.250 T in 0.100 s.


To find the magnitude of emf, we use Faraday’s law of induction as stated by \(\text{emf}=-N\cfrac{\Delta \Phi }{\Delta t}\), but without the minus sign that indicates direction:

\(\text{emf}=N\cfrac{\Delta \Phi }{\Delta t}\text{.}\)


We are given that \(N=1\) and \(\Delta t=0\text{.}\text{100}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{s}\), but we must determine the change in flux \(\Delta \Phi \) before we can find emf. Since the area of the loop is fixed, we see that

\(\Delta \Phi =\Delta (\mathrm{BA}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{cos}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\theta )=A\Delta (B\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{cos}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\theta ).\)

Now \(\Delta (B\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{cos}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\theta )=0\text{.}\text{200 T}\), since it was given that \(B\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{cos}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\theta \) changes from 0.0500 to 0.250 T. The area of the loop is \(A={\mathrm{\pi r}}^{2}=(3\text{.}\text{14}\text{.}\text{.}\text{.})(0\text{.}\text{060 m}{)}^{2}=1\text{.}\text{13}×{\text{10}}^{-2}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}{\text{m}}^{2}\). Thus,

\(\Delta \Phi =(\text{1.13}×{\text{10}}^{-2}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}{\text{m}}^{2})(0.200 T).\)

Entering the determined values into the expression for emf gives

\(\text{Emf}=N\cfrac{\Delta \Phi }{\Delta t}=\cfrac{(1.13×{\text{10}}^{-2}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}{\text{m}}^{2})(0\text{.}\text{200}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{T})}{0\text{.}\text{100}\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{s}}=\text{22}\text{.}6\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}\text{mV.}\)


While this is an easily measured voltage, it is certainly not large enough for most practical applications. More loops in the coil, a stronger magnet, and faster movement make induction the practical source of voltages that it is.

PhET Explorations: Faraday’s Electromagnetic Lab

Play with a bar magnet and coils to learn about Faraday’s law. Move a bar magnet near one or two coils to make a light bulb glow. View the magnetic field lines. A meter shows the direction and magnitude of the current. View the magnetic field lines or use a meter to show the direction and magnitude of the current. You can also play with electromagnets, generators and transformers!

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