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University Physics Volume 2

13.7 Applications of Electromagnetic Induction

University Physics Volume 213.7 Applications of Electromagnetic Induction

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain how computer hard drives and graphic tablets operate using magnetic induction
  • Explain how hybrid/electric vehicles and transcranial magnetic stimulation use magnetic induction to their advantage

Modern society has numerous applications of Faraday’s law of induction, as we will explore in this chapter and others. At this juncture, let us mention several that involve recording information using magnetic fields.

Some computer hard drives apply the principle of magnetic induction. Recorded data are made on a coated, spinning disk. Historically, reading these data was made to work on the principle of induction. However, most input information today is carried in digital rather than analog form—a series of 0s or 1s are written upon the spinning hard drive. Therefore, most hard drive readout devices do not work on the principle of induction, but use a technique known as giant magnetoresistance. Giant magnetoresistance is the effect of a large change of electrical resistance induced by an applied magnetic field to thin films of alternating ferromagnetic and nonmagnetic layers. This is one of the first large successes of nanotechnology.

Graphics tablets, or tablet computers where a specially designed pen is used to draw digital images, also applies induction principles. The tablets discussed here are labeled as passive tablets, since there are other designs that use either a battery-operated pen or optical signals to write with. The passive tablets are different than the touch tablets and phones many of us use regularly, but may still be found when signing your signature at a cash register. Underneath the screen, shown in Figure 13.34, are tiny wires running across the length and width of the screen. The pen has a tiny magnetic field coming from the tip. As the tip brushes across the screen, a changing magnetic field is felt in the wires which translates into an induced emf that is converted into the line you just drew.

Photograph shows a digital tablet with a stylus.
Figure 13.34 A tablet with a specially designed pen to write with is another application of magnetic induction. (credit: Jane Whitney)

Another application of induction is the magnetic stripe on the back of your personal credit card as used at the grocery store or the ATM. This works on the same principle as the audio or video tape, in which a playback head reads personal information from your card.


Check out this video to see how flashlights can use magnetic induction. A magnet moves by your mechanical work through a wire. The induced current charges a capacitor that stores the charge that will light the lightbulb even while you are not doing this mechanical work.

Electric and hybrid vehicles also take advantage of electromagnetic induction. One limiting factor that inhibits widespread acceptance of 100% electric vehicles is that the lifetime of the battery is not as long as the time you get to drive on a full tank of gas. To increase the amount of charge in the battery during driving, the motor can act as a generator whenever the car is braking, taking advantage of the back emf produced. This extra emf can be newly acquired stored energy in the car’s battery, prolonging the life of the battery.

Another contemporary area of research in which electromagnetic induction is being successfully implemented is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). 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. The usage of TMS as a diagnostic technique is well established.


Check out this Youtube video to see how rock-and-roll instruments like electric guitars use electromagnetic induction to get those strong beats.

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