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Q & A: Stronger electromagnets with more turns

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Most recent answer: 11/01/2019
Q:
Why is an electromagnet stronger if there are more turns in the coil?
- claire (age 15)
england
A:
Hi Claire,

We say that electric and magnetic fields are "linear" in that the total field from more than one source is the sum of the fields from all the sources. The fields come from all the turns of your electromagnet, and so they can add to be stronger.

This isn’t always true, though, and it depends on the geometry of your magnet. A very long solenoid has a magnetic field inside which depends on the current in the wire and the number of turns per unit length of the solenoid. Adding more turns on the end just makes the solenoid longer (and strengthens the field where you put the turns -- the field on the end of a solenoid is weaker than it is in the center), but the turns on the end of a very long solenoid do not strengthen the field much in the middle. If you add the turns to the middle, then you make the field stronger there.

Adding more turns in the coil can also increase the total resistance of the wire. If you’re powering the magnet with a constant voltage source (like a battery), the current will be inversely proportional to the resistance in the wire. In that case adding more turns won’t increase the field, since the field from each turn will go down.

Tom

p.s. If you can get enough current, how strong a field you can get from a magnet depends on how big a field it has when the current is as big as you can get it without getting the magnet so hot that it’s damaged. It doesn’t really matter much for that whether you use fewer coils of thicker wire, that can carry more current, or more coils of thinner wire, that can carry less current. What really matters is making the total thickness of all the coils big enough./ Mike W.

(published on 10/22/2007)

Follow-Up #1: stronger magnetic fields

Q:
In the previous question you answered how an electromagnet can be made stronger. But never why it becomes stronger. Would you mind explaining that?
- Simon (age 15)
Sweden
A:
Good question. Each wire has a field which is proportional to the current through the wire. The field also falls off with distance from the wire. So every loop of wire with current in it contributes to the field, but the closer loops count more. That's why you get stronger fields (for a given current) by adding more loops, although it doesn't pay to keep adding more loops too far from the core of the magnet.
I'm not sure that answers your question. Let us know if you want something deeper about why current creates magnetic fields.

Mike W.

(published on 04/18/2009)

Follow-Up #2: electromagnet with core

Q:
I am curious as to why your answers are so incomplete.it would be a much better answer to inquiring minds if you explained the magnetic field produced by the current through the wire aligns the magnetic domains of the core material. iron having fewer pinning sites then other materials can flip domains much easier meaning less current or weaker field can align more domains.also paralleling multiple coils on the same core adds N number of turns yet reduces resistance and increases the volts per turn allowing a lower voltage power source to achieve a substantially higher magnetic field then otherwise possible.short changing students is not the correct thing to do.
- Donald L (age 56)
Houston, Texas USA
A:

The questions seemed to concern a simple electromagnet, not one with an iron core to enhance the field. Your description of the domain behavior in the iron helps for the case where there is a core.

The only thing I find perplexing about your description is the "lower voltage" part.

At any rate,  for a power source with plenty of current and voltage, the limiting field is set by avoiding heating up the coils too much.  Typical powerful electromagnets include tubes for cooling by flowing water.

Mike W.


(published on 11/01/2019)

Follow-up on this answer.