Skip to main content
\(\require{cancel}\)
Physics LibreTexts

12: Sources of Magnetic Fields

  • Page ID
    4427
  • In this chapter, we examine how magnetic fields are created by arbitrary distributions of electric current, using the Biot-Savart law. Then we look at how current-carrying wires create magnetic fields and deduce the forces that arise between two current-carrying wires due to these magnetic fields. We also study the torques produced by the magnetic fields of current loops. We then generalize these results to an important law of electromagnetism, called Ampère’s law.

    • 12.1: Prelude to Sources of Magnetic Fields
      In the preceding chapter, we saw that a moving charged particle produces a magnetic field. This connection between electricity and magnetism is exploited in electromagnetic devices, such as a computer hard drive. In fact, it is the underlying principle behind most of the technology in modern society, including telephones, television, computers, and the internet.
    • 12.2: The Biot-Savart Law
      We have seen that mass produces a gravitational field and also interacts with that field. Charge produces an electric field and also interacts with that field. Since moving charge (that is, current) interacts with a magnetic field, we might expect that it also creates that field—and it does.
    • 12.3: Magnetic Field due to a Thin Straight Wire
      How does the shape of wires carrying current affect the shape of the magnetic field created? We know that a current loop created a magnetic field similar to that of a bar magnet, but what about a straight wire? We can use the Biot-Savart law to answer all of these questions, including determining the magnetic field of a long straight wire.
    • 12.4: Magnetic Force between Two Parallel Currents
      You might expect that two current-carrying wires generate significant forces between them, since ordinary currents produce magnetic fields and these fields exert significant forces on ordinary currents. But you might not expect that the force between wires is used to define the ampere. It might also surprise you to learn that this force has something to do with why large circuit breakers burn up when they attempt to interrupt large currents.
    • 12.5: Magnetic Field of a Current Loop
      We can use the Biot-Savart law to find the magnetic field due to a current. We first consider arbitrary segments on opposite sides of the loop to qualitatively show by the vector results that the net magnetic field direction is along the central axis from the loop. From there, we can use the Biot-Savart law to derive the expression for magnetic field.
    • 12.6: Ampère’s Law
      A fundamental property of a static magnetic field is that, unlike an electrostatic field, it is not conservative. A conservative field is one that does the same amount of work on a particle moving between two different points regardless of the path chosen. Magnetic fields do not have such a property. Instead, there is a relationship between the magnetic field and its source, electric current. It is expressed in terms of the line integral B and is known as Ampère’s law.
    • 12.7: Solenoids and Toroids
      Two of the most common and useful electromagnetic devices are called solenoids and toroids. In one form or another, they are part of numerous instruments, both large and small. In this section, we examine the magnetic field typical of these devices.
    • 12.8: Magnetism in Matter
      Why are certain materials magnetic and others not? And why do certain substances become magnetized by a field, whereas others are unaffected? To answer such questions, we need an understanding of magnetism on a microscopic level. Within an atom, every electron travels in an orbit and spins on an internal axis. Both types of motion produce current loops and therefore magnetic dipoles. For a particular atom, the net magnetic dipole moment is the vector sum of the magnetic dipole moments.
    • 12.A: Sources of Magnetic Fields (Answers)
    • 12.E: Sources of Magnetic Fields (Exercise)
    • 12.S: Sources of Magnetic Fields (Summary)