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Producing and Measuring Elecrical Quantities
Magnetism and Electromagnetism

Section 2-4 Magnetic Fields

The space surrounding a magnet where magnetic forces act is known as the magnetic field.

A pattern of this directional force can be obtained by performing an experiment with iron filings. A piece of glass is placed over a bar magnet and the iron filings are then sprinkled on the surface of the glass. The magnetizing force of the magnet will be felt through the glass and each iron filing becomes a temporary magnet. If the glass is now tapped gently, the iron particles will align themselves with the magnetic field surrounding the magnet just as the compass needle did previously. The filings form a definite pattern, which is a visible representation of the forces comprising the magnetic field. Examination of the arrangements of iron filings in figure shown here will indicate that the magnetic field is very strong at the poles and weakens as the distance from the poles increases. It is also apparent that the magnetic field extends from one pole to the other, constituting a loop about the magnet.

Lines of Force. To further describe and work with magnet phenomena, lines are used to represent the force existing in the area surrounding a magnet (refer to the figure below). These lines, called magnetic lines of force, do not actually exist but are imaginary lines used to illustrate and describe the pattern of the magnetic field. The magnetic lines of force are assumed to emanate from the north pole of a magnet, pass through surrounding space, and enter the south pole. The lines of force then travel inside the magnet from the south pole to the north pole, thus completing a closed loop.

Magnetic lines of force

When two magnetic poles are brought close together, the mutual attraction or repulsion of the poles produces a more complicated pattern than that of a single magnet. These magnetic lines of force can be plotted by placing a compass at various points throughout the magnetic field, or they can be roughly illustrated by the use of iron filings as before. A diagram of magnetic poles placed close together is shown below.

Magnetic poles in close proximity.


The Law for Magnetic Poles

Like poles repel, unlike poles attract.

Although magnetic lines of force are imaginary, a simplified version of many magnetic phenomena can be explained by assuming the magnetic lines to have certain real properties. The lines of force can be compared to rubber bands which stretch outward when a force is exerted upon them and contract when the force is removed. The characteristics of magnetic lines of force can be described as follows:

  1. Magnetic lines of force are continuous and will always form closed loops.
  2. Magnetic lines of force will never cross one another.
  3. Parallel magnetic lines of force traveling in the same direction repel one another. Parallel magnetic lines of force traveling in opposite directions tend to unite with each other and form into single lines traveling in a direction determined by the magnetic poles creating the lines of force.
  4. Magnetic lines of force tend to shorten themselves. Therefore, the magnetic lines of force existing between two unlike poles cause the poles to be pulled together.
  5. Magnetic lines of force pass through all materials, both magnetic and nonmagnetic.
  6. Magnetic lines of force always enter or leave a magnetic material at right angles to the surface.



David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015