Electricity and magnetism were considered separate and unrelated phenomena for a long time. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, experiments on electric current by Oersted, Ampere and a few others established the fact that electricity and magnetism are inter-related. They found that moving electric charges produce magnetic fields. For example, an electric current deflects a magnetic compass needle placed in its vicinity. This naturally raises the questions like: Is the converse effect possible? Can moving magnets produce electric currents? Does the nature permit such a relation between electricity and magnetism? The answer is resounding yes! The experiments of Michael Faraday in England and Joseph Henry in USA, conducted around 1830, demonstrated conclusively that electric currents were induced in closed coils when subjected to changing magnetic fields. In this chapter, we will study the phenomena associated with changing magnetic fields and understand the underlying principles. The phenomenon in which electric current is generated by varying magnetic fields is appropriately called electromagnetic induction.

When Faraday first made public his discovery that relative motion between a bar magnet and a wire loop produced a small current in the latter, he was asked, “What is the use of it?” His reply was: “What is the use of a new born baby?” The phenomenon of electromagnetic induction is not merely of theoretical or academic interest but also of practical utility. Imagine a world where there is no electricity – no electric lights, no trains, no telephones and no personal computers. The pioneering experiments of Faraday and Henry have led directly to the development of modern day generators and transformers. Today’s civilisation owes its progress to a great extent to the discovery of electromagnetic induction.

Josheph Henry [1797 – 1878]

American experimental physicist, professor at Princeton University and first director of the Smithsonian Institution. He made important improvements in electromagnets by winding coils of insulated wire around iron pole pieces and invented an electromagnetic motor and a new, efficient telegraph. He discovered self-induction and investigated how currents in one circuit induce currents in another.

Michael Faraday [1791–1867]

Faraday made numerous contributions to science, viz., the discovery of electromagnetic induction, the laws of electrolysis, benzene, and the fact that the plane of polarisation is rotated in an electric field. He is also credited with the invention of the electric motor, the electric generator and the transformer. He is widely regarded as the greatest experimental scientist of the nineteenth century.


The discovery and understanding of electromagnetic induction are based on a long series of experiments carried out by Faraday and Henry. We shall now describe some of these experiments.

Experiment 1

A coil C1* connected to a galvanometer G. When the North-pole of a bar magnet is pushed towards the coil, the pointer in the galvanometer deflects, indicating the presence of electric current in the coil. The deflection lasts as long as the bar magnet is in motion. The galvanometer does not show any deflection when the magnet is held stationary. When the magnet is pulled away from the coil, the galvanometer shows deflection in the opposite direction, which indicates reversal of the current’s direction. Moreover, when the South-pole of the bar magnet is moved towards or away from the coil, the deflections in the galvanometer are opposite to that observed with the North-pole for similar movements. Further, the deflection (and hence current) is found to be larger when the magnet is pushed towards or pulled away from the coil faster. Instead, when the bar magnet is held fixed and the coil C1 is moved towards or away from the magnet, the same effects are observed. It shows that it is the relative motion between the magnet and the coil that is responsible for generation (induction) of electric current in the coil.

Experiment 2

The bar magnet is replaced by a second coil C2 connected to a battery. The steady current in the coil C2 produces a steady magnetic field. As coil C2 is moved  towards the coil C1, the galvanometer shows a deflection. This indicates that electric current is induced in coil C1. When C2 is moved away, the galvanometer shows a deflection again, but this time in the opposite direction. The deflection lasts as long as coil C2 is in motion. When the coil C2 is held fixed and C1 is moved, the same effects are observed.

Again, it is the relative motion between the coils that induces the electric current.

Experiment 3

The above two experiments involved relative motion between a magnet and a coil and between two coils, respectively. Through another experiment, Faraday showed that this relative motion is not an absolute requirement. Two coils C1 and C2 held stationary. Coil C1 is connected to galvanometer G while the second coil C2 is connected to a battery through a tapping key K.

It is observed that the galvanometer shows a momentary deflection when the tapping key K is pressed. The pointer in the galvanometer returns to zero immediately. If the key is held pressed continuously, there is no deflection in the galvanometer. When the key is released, a momentary deflection is observed again, but in the opposite direction. It is also observed that the deflection increases dramatically when an iron rod is inserted into the coils along their axis.


Faraday’s great insight lay in discovering a simple mathematical relation to explain the series of experiments he carried out on electromagnetic induction. However, before we state and appreciate his laws, we must get familiar with the notion of magnetic flux, F B.


From the experimental observations, Faraday arrived at a conclusion that an emf is induced in a coil when magnetic flux through the coil changes with time. Experimental observations can be explained using this concept.

The motion of a magnet towards or away from coil C1 in Experiment 1 and moving a current-carrying coil C2 towards or away from coil C1 in Experiment 2, change the magnetic flux associated with coil C1. The change in magnetic flux induces emf in coil C1. It was this induced emf which caused electric current to flow in coil C1 and through the galvanometer. A plausible explanation for the observations of Experiment 3 is as follows: When the tapping key K is pressed, the current in coil C2 (and the resulting magnetic field) rises from zero to a maximum value in a short time. Consequently, the magnetic flux through the neighbouring coil C1 also increases. It is the change in magnetic flux through coil C1 that produces an induced emf in coil C1. When the key is held pressed, current in coil C2 is constant. Therefore, there is no change in the magnetic flux through coil C1 and the current in coil C1 drops to zero. When the key is released, the current in C2 and the resulting magnetic field decreases from the maximum value to zero in a short time. This results in a decrease in magnetic flux through coil C1 and hence again induces an electric current in coil C1*. The common point in all these observations is that the time rate of change of magnetic flux through a circuit induces emf in it. Faraday stated experimental observations in the form of a law called Faraday’s law of electromagnetic induction. The law is stated below.

The magnitude of the induced emf in a circuit is equal to the time rate of change of magnetic flux through the circuit.


In 1834, German physicist Heinrich Friedrich Lenz (1804-1865) deduced a rule, known as Lenz’s law which gives the polarity of the induced emf in a clear and concise fashion. The statement of the law is:

The polarity of induced emf is such that it tends to produce a current which opposes the change in magnetic flux that produced it.

 We can understand Lenz’s law by examining Experiment 1.  We see that the North-pole of a bar magnet is being pushed towards the closed coil. As the North-pole of the bar magnet moves towards the coil, the magnetic flux through the coil increases. Hence current is induced in the coil in such a direction that it opposes the increase in flux. This is possible only if the current in the coil is in a counter-clockwise direction with respect to an observer situated on the side of the magnet. Note that magnetic moment associated with this current has North polarity towards the North-pole of the approaching magnet. Similarly, if the Northpole of the magnet is being withdrawn from the coil, the magnetic flux through the coil will decrease. To counter this decrease in magnetic flux, the induced current in the coil flows in clockwise direction and its Southpole faces the receding North-pole of the bar magnet. This would result in an attractive force which opposes the motion of the magnet and the corresponding decrease in flux.

What will happen if an open circuit is used in place of the closed loop in the above example? In this case too, an emf is induced across the open ends of the circuit. The direction of the induced emf can be found using Lenz’s law. They provide an easier way to understand the direction of induced currents. Note that the direction shown by and indicate the directions of the induced currents.

A little reflection on this matter should convince us on the correctness of Lenz’s law. Suppose that the induced current was in the direction opposite to the one. In that case, the South-pole due to the induced current will face the approaching North-pole of the magnet. The bar magnet will then be attracted towards the coil at an ever increasing acceleration. A gentle push on the magnet will initiate the process and its velocity and kinetic energy will continuously increase without expending any energy. If this can happen, one could construct a perpetual-motion machine by a suitable arrangement. This violates the law of conservation of energy and hence cannot happen.

In this situation, the bar magnet experiences a repulsive force due to the induced current. Therefore, a person has to do work in moving the magnet. Where does the energy spent by the person go? This energy is dissipated by Joule heating produced by the induced current.


So far we have studied the electric currents induced in well defined paths in conductors like circular loops. Even when bulk pieces of conductors are subjected to changing magnetic flux, induced currents are produced in them. However, their flow patterns resemble swirling eddies in water. This effect was discovered by physicist Foucault (1819-1868) and these currents are called eddy currents.

Consider the apparatus. A copper plate is allowed to swing like a simple pendulum between the pole pieces of a strong magnet. It is found that the motion is damped and in a little while the plate comes to a halt in the magnetic field. We can explain this phenomenon on the basis of electromagnetic induction. Magnetic flux associated with the plate keeps on changing as the plate moves in and out of the region between magnetic poles. The flux change induces eddy currents in the plate. Directions of eddy currents are opposite when the plate swings into the region between the poles and when it swings out of the region.

If rectangular slots are made in the copper plate, area available to the flow of eddy currents is less. Thus, the pendulum plate with holes or slots reduces electromagnetic damping and the plate swings more freely. Note that magnetic moments of the induced currents (which oppose the motion) depend upon the area enclosed by the currents (recall equation m = IA).

This fact is helpful in reducing eddy currents in the metallic cores of transformers, electric motors and other such devices in which a coil is to be wound over metallic core. Eddy currents are undesirable since they heat up the core and dissipate electrical energy in the form of heat. Eddy currents are minimised by using laminations of metal to make a metal core. The laminations are separated by an insulating material like lacquer. The plane of the laminations must be arranged parallel to the magnetic field, so that they cut across the eddy current paths. This arrangement reduces the strength of the eddy currents. Since the dissipation of electrical energy into heat depends on the square of the strength of electric current, heat loss is substantially reduced.

Eddy currents are used to advantage in certain applications like:

(i) Magnetic braking in trains: Strong electromagnets are situated above the rails in some electrically powered trains. When the electromagnets are activated, the eddy currents induced in the rails oppose the motion of the train. As there are no mechanical linkages, the braking effect is smooth.

(ii) Electromagnetic damping: Certain galvanometers have a fixed core made of nonmagnetic metallic material. When the coil oscillates, the eddy currents generated in the core oppose the motion and bring the coil to rest quickly.

(iii) Induction furnace: Induction furnace can be used to produce high temperatures and can be utilised to prepare alloys, by melting the constituent metals. A high frequency alternating current is passed through a coil which surrounds the metals to be melted. The eddy currents generated in the metals produce high temperatures sufficient to melt it.

(iv) Electric power meters: The shiny metal disc in the electric power meter (analogue type) rotates due to the eddy currents. Electric currents are induced in the disc by magnetic fields produced by sinusoidally varying currents in a coil.

You can observe the rotating shiny disc in the power meter of your house.


Take two hollow thin cylindrical pipes of equal internal diameters made of aluminium and PVC, respectively. Fix them vertically with clamps on retort stands. Take a small cylindrical magnet having diameter slightly smaller than the inner diameter of the pipes and drop it through each pipe in such a way that the magnet does not touch the sides of the pipes during its fall. You will observe that the magnet dropped through the PVC pipe takes the same time to come out of the pipe as it would take when dropped through the same height without the pipe. Note the time it takes to come out of the pipe in each case. You will see that the magnet takes much longer time in the case of aluminium pipe. Why is it so? It is due to the eddy currents that are generated in the aluminium pipe which oppose the change in magnetic flux, i.e., the motion of the magnet. The retarding force due to the eddy currents inhibits the motion of the magnet. Such phenomena are referred to as electromagnetic damping. Note that eddy currents are not generated in PVC pipe as its material is an insulator whereas aluminium is a conductor.


An electric current can be induced in a coil by flux change produced by another coil in its vicinity or flux change produced by the same coil. These two situations are described separately in the next two sub-sections. However, in both the cases, the flux through a coil is proportional to the current.


In the previous sub-section, we considered the flux in one solenoid due to the current in the other. It is also possible that emf is induced in a single isolated coil due to change of flux through the coil by means of varying the current through the same coil. This phenomenon is called self-induction.


The phenomenon of electromagnetic induction has been technologically exploited in many ways. An exceptionally important application is the generation of alternating currents (ac). The modern ac generator with a typical output capacity of 100 MW is a highly evolved machine. In this section, we shall describe the basic principles behind this machine. The Yugoslav inventor Nicola Tesla is credited with the development of the machine. One method to induce an emf or current in a loop is through a change in the loop’s orientation or a change in its effective area.

As the coil rotates in a magnetic field B, the effective area of the loop (the face perpendicular to the field) is A cos q, where q is the angle between A and B. This method of producing a flux change is the principle of operation of a simple ac generator. An ac generator converts mechanical energy into electrical energy.

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