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Electromagnets: What are They Used For?

written by: Om Thoke • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 5/26/2010

A magnetic field can be formed by passing electric current through a wire, and electromagnets work on this basic principal. Electromagnets are used for creating plenty of appliances ranging from motors, speakers, heads for tape drives, and hard disks; here's a brief insight to electromagnets.

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    What is an Electromagnet?

    What is an Electromagnet  

    An electromagnet can be regarded as a temporary magnet that functions with a flow of electricity, and its polarity can be easily altered by varying the direction of current.

    On the other hand, the magnetic strength of electromagnets can be changed by varying the amount of current flowing through them.

    This diagram depicts formation of magnetic field produced by electric current and the working of a simple electromagnet. There are many common phenomena that demonstrate the fundamental concept of electromagnetism on a daily basis.

    For instance, it is possible to slide the bolts of latches and locks, and open/close switches in distant electric circuits, and do much more. One of the most common examples of electromagnetism is for spinning the rotors of electric motors.

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    What Are Electromagnets Used For?


    Electro-magnets are used for a variety of purposes on a day-to-day basis, such as in large cranes that are used in scrap yards.

    Another common use of electromagnets can be seen on a magnetic circuit breaker, or resettable fuse, which is usually placed on a live wire for preventing the wire from carrying dangerously high currents.

    The resettable fuse trips (or “blows") rather than getting blown off, and it is lot easier to simply reset it back, rather than replacing a new fuse wire. Magnetic circuit breakers are preferred in modern usage due to the fact that they're less susceptible to temperature variations than fuse elements.

    More so, they are capable of carrying full-rated current without false tripping.

    MRI Machine  

    You may be well aware of the fact that all electric motors run with the help of electromagnets, and the electromagnets also find extensive use in transformers, but those who don’t know the scientific uses of electromagnets may be surprised to hear that electromagnets are used for removing magnet-sensitive metal particles from the eyes of patients who’ve been victims of accidents.

    They form the core of the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine; MRI is a specialized medical technique for analyzing the interior body parts of human body closely, and examining those parts, which are not directly accessible for physical examination.

    An MRI machine makes use of the gradient magnets, along with the primary magnet. In modern times, electromagnets are most commonly used for storing information.

    Electromagnets are primarily used to move things and to store information; it is so because many of the materials are capable of absorbing/storing a magnetic field, which can be read-back with the help of an efficient magnetic reader to retrieve the information.

    Hence, electromagents are used in everything right from small memory sticks down to the large audiotapes, and other forms of storage.

    The extent of use of electromagnets in various applications does differ to a good extent, but they find use in virtually every other modern appliance.

    The chances are high that you use a device that makes use of electromagnets, but it could be quite possible that you're simply not aware of it!

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    Adverse Effects of Electromagnets

    It is important to understand that electromagnets can also have adverse effects such as ruining your TV screen. They’re capable of damaging your hard drive, and even scrambling up your credit card, rendering it completely useless! Therefore, it is highly recommendable to keep these electromagnets away from such things, which are sensitive to magnetic fields.

    Many of you may be aware of the fact that electromagnets are also used in the cathode ray tubes used in the older televisions sets. So, another word of caution here would be to stay away from these electromagnets used for powering up the cathode rays inside the TV, as they deal with very high amount of voltages, and things can get really ugly if you try to fiddle with one of them.

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    The Bottom-Line

    Electromagnets are also used in countless appliances, and devices that we use on a day-to-day basis, and life without electromagnets may be really blue! Most of the technological inventions run on electromagnets, which include electric motors, PCs, gadgets, telephones, cranes, loudspeakers, pen drives, TVs, and the list is virtually endless.

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