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Figure shows a slotted metal plate entering a magnetic field. Small eddy currents rotating in the opposite directions are created when the plate enters the field.
Eddy currents induced in a slotted metal plate entering a magnetic field form small loops, and the forces on them tend to cancel, thereby making magnetic drag almost zero.

Applications of magnetic damping

One use of magnetic damping is found in sensitive laboratory balances. To have maximum sensitivity and accuracy, the balance must be as friction-free as possible. But if it is friction-free, then it will oscillate for a very long time. Magnetic damping is a simple and ideal solution. With magnetic damping    , drag is proportional to speed and becomes zero at zero velocity. Thus, the oscillations are quickly damped, after which the damping force disappears, allowing the balance to be very sensitive ( [link] ). In most balances, magnetic damping is accomplished with a conducting disc that rotates in a fixed field.

Figure shows sensitive laboratory balances. Magnetic damping is achieved by a conducting disc, also called damper vane, inserted into the magnet.
Magnetic damping of this sensitive balance slows its oscillations. Since Faraday’s law of induction gives the greatest effect for the most rapid change, damping is greatest for large oscillations and goes to zero as the motion stops.

Since eddy currents and magnetic damping occur only in conductors, recycling centers can use magnets to separate metals from other materials. Trash is dumped in batches down a ramp, beneath which lies a powerful magnet. Conductors in the trash are slowed by magnetic damping while nonmetals in the trash move on, separating from the metals ( [link] ). This works for all metals, not just ferromagnetic ones. A magnet can separate out the ferromagnetic materials alone by acting on stationary trash.

Figure illustrates the use of the magnetic drag to separate metals form other trash. A strong magnet is installed below the path of the trash from the truck separating materials.
Metals can be separated from other trash by magnetic drag. Eddy currents and magnetic drag are created in the metals sent down this ramp by the powerful magnet beneath it. Nonmetals move on.

Other major applications of eddy currents appear in metal detectors and braking systems in trains and roller coasters. Portable metal detectors ( [link] ) consist of a primary coil carrying an alternating current and a secondary coil in which a current is induced. An eddy current is induced in a piece of metal close to the detector, causing a change in the induced current within the secondary coil. This can trigger some sort of signal, such as a shrill noise.

Photograph shows a soldier with the metal detector in one hand.
A soldier in Iraq uses a metal detector to search for explosives and weapons. (credit: U.S. Army)

Braking using eddy currents is safer because factors such as rain do not affect the braking and the braking is smoother. However, eddy currents cannot bring the motion to a complete stop, since the braking force produced decreases as speed is reduced. Thus, speed can be reduced from say 20 m/s to 5 m/s, but another form of braking is needed to completely stop the vehicle. Generally, powerful rare-earth magnets such as neodymium magnets are used in roller coasters. [link] shows rows of magnets in such an application. The vehicle has metal fins (normally containing copper) that pass through the magnetic field, slowing the vehicle down in much the same way as with the pendulum bob shown in [link] .

Photograph shows the rows of rare-earth magnets installed along line of the roller coaster.
The rows of rare-earth magnets (protruding horizontally) are used for magnetic braking in roller coasters. (credit: Stefan Scheer)

Induction cooktops have electromagnets under their surface. The magnetic field is varied rapidly, producing eddy currents in the base of the pot, causing the pot and its contents to increase in temperature. Induction cooktops have high efficiencies and good response times but the base of the pot needs to be conductors, such as iron or steel, for induction to work.


  • Current loops induced in moving conductors are called eddy currents. They can create significant drag, called magnetic damping.
  • Manipulation of eddy currents has resulted in applications such as metal detectors, braking in trains or roller coasters, and induction cooktops.

Conceptual questions

A conducting sheet lies in a plane perpendicular to a magnetic field B that is below the sheet. If B oscillates at a high frequency and the conductor is made of a material of low resistivity, the region above the sheet is effectively shielded from B . Explain why. Will the conductor shield this region from static magnetic fields?

The conducting sheet is shielded from the changing magnetic fields by creating an induced emf. This induced emf creates an induced magnetic field that opposes any changes in magnetic fields from the field underneath. Therefore, there is no net magnetic field in the region above this sheet. If the field were due to a static magnetic field, no induced emf will be created since you need a changing magnetic flux to induce an emf. Therefore, this static magnetic field will not be shielded.

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Electromagnetic braking can be achieved by applying a strong magnetic field to a spinning metal disk attached to a shaft. (a) How can a magnetic field slow the spinning of a disk? (b) Would the brakes work if the disk was made of plastic instead of metal?

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A coil is moved through a magnetic field as shown below. The field is uniform inside the rectangle and zero outside. What is the direction of the induced current and what is the direction of the magnetic force on the coil at each position shown?

Picture shows a coil is moved from the left to the right through a uniform magnetic field. Magnetic lines are perpendicular to the coil and are directed from the plane of the page.

a. zero induced current, zero force; b. clockwise induced current, force is to the left; c. zero induced current, zero force; d. counterclockwise induced current, force is to the left; e. zero induced current, zero force.

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Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 2. OpenStax CNX. Oct 06, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12074/1.3
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