What is Solenoid? - Definition, Uses & Examples

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  • 0:00 What is a Solenoid?
  • 0:30 How Do Electromagnet…
  • 1:20 Uses of Electromagnet…
  • 2:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

In this lesson, you will learn what a solenoid is, how it relates to electromagnets, and how it is used in a few real-life situations. A short quiz will follow.

What is a Solenoid?

Solenoids and electromagnets technically are not the same thing, but people talk as if they are. A solenoid is just a coil of wire, but when you run a current through it, you create an electromagnet. Since this is by far the most useful application of a coil of wire, it's not surprising that when you say the word 'solenoid,' people tend to assume you mean electromagnet. Electromagnets are particularly useful because, unlike regular magnets, they can be switched on and off, and strengthened by increasing the current flowing through them.

How Do Electromagnet Solenoids Work?

When a lazy charge sits on its couch, doing nothing, it is surrounded by an electric field. This makes sense, because it's an electric charge, after all. But once that charge gets some motivation and goes for a run around the block, suddenly it produces a magnetic field. This might strike you as odd, and you wouldn't be alone! As physicists figured out later, both fields are part of the same force of nature: electromagnetism.

Because of this, we can create a magnet by simply running a current through a wire. When we run a current through a solenoid, however, we get a super strong magnet because the magnetic field is concentrated inside the coil. This can be incredibly useful in our everyday lives.

Uses of Electromagnet Solenoids

Electromagnetic solenoids find uses all over the world. They're in hotel door locks, water-pressure valves in air conditioning systems, MRI machines, hard disk drives, speakers, microphones, power plants, and cars. You can hardly swing a bat without hitting a solenoid.

Speakers and microphones, for example, both contain solenoids. In fact, a speaker and microphone are pretty much exactly the same thing in reverse of each other. A speaker takes electrical signals and runs it through a solenoid to create motion; that motion drives the speaker and creates a sound. A microphone does the opposite; your voice pushes the solenoid back and forth, and that motion of the solenoid creates an electrical signal that can be used to create the sound elsewhere. Without solenoids, we wouldn't be able to record or reproduce sound at all.

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