|MadSci Network: Physics|
Dear John, This is a great question that deals with a number of interesting points. First, we need to remember that Lenz’s Law is one aspect of a more general result that is Faraday’s Law. Faraday’s Law tells us that when we have a changing magnetic flux through a loop, there will be an induced electromotive force (EMF) around that loop. The part of Faraday’s Law that is Lenz’s Law, basically the minus sign, tells us the orientation of that EMF. The direction of the EMF is such that if a current was induced, the magnetic field created from the induced current would point in the opposite direction to the change in the flux, that is, the induced field “tries” to reduce the external field’s change. I say that “if” a current is induced, because the electromotive force is produced whether a current is created or not. The EMF is essentially a line integral of the electric field and does not require the presence of any material in which the current may flow. So what is happening with your steel conductor? The iron in the steel is ferromagnetic, that is, iron responds very strongly to external magnetic fields. When you place iron in an external field, the iron will tend to align its own internal magnetic moments to the external field, thus increasing the magnitude of the field. The dominant effect will then be an increase of the field due to the iron’s internal magnetic field, as opposed to a decrease due to Lenz’s Law. Iron cores are often used within coils for just this purpose, to increase the total magnetic field produced. Well, I hope I have answered your question, John. If you would like some more information, please let us know. Sincerely, Jim Guinn
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