Michael Faraday

.. vanometer. ‘During its flow,’ and this was the time when an effect was expected– but here Faraday’s power of lateral vision, separating, as it were, from the line of expectation, came into play–he noticed that a feeble movement of the needle always occurred at the moment when he made contact with the battery; that the needle would afterwards return to its former position and remain quietly there unaffected by the flowing current. At the moment, however, when the circuit was interrupted the needle again moved, and in a direction opposed to that observed on the completion of the circuit. This result, and others of a similar kind, led him to the conclusion ‘that the battery current through the one wire did in reality induce a similar current through the other; but that it continued for an instant only, and partook more of the nature of the electric wave from a common jar than of the current from a voltaic battery.’ The momentary currents thus generated were called induced currents, while the current which generated them was called the inducing current.

It was immediately proved that the current generated at making the circuit was always opposed in direction to its generator, while that developed on the rupture of the circuit coincided in direction with the inducing current. It appeared as if the current on its first rush through the primary wire sought a purchase in the secondary one, and, by a kind of kick, impelled backward through the latter an electric wave, which subsided as soon as the primary current was fully established. Faraday, for a time, believed that the secondary wire, though quiescent when the primary current had been once established, was not in its natural condition, its return to that condition being declared by the current observed at breaking the circuit. He called this hypothetical state of the wire the electrotonic state: he afterwards abandoned this hypothesis, but seemed to return to it in later life. The term electrotonic is also preserved by Professor Du Bois Reymond to express a certain electric condition of the nerves. The mere approach of a wire forming a closed curve to a second wire through which a voltaic current flowed was then shown by Faraday to be sufficient to arouse in the neutral wire an induced current, opposed in direction to the inducing current; the withdrawal of the wire also generated a current having the same direction as the inducing current; those currents existed only during the time of approach or withdrawal, and when neither the primary nor the secondary wire was in motion, no matter how close their proximity might be, no induced current was generated.

Faraday has been called a purely inductive philosopher. He was at this time full of the theory of Ampere, and it cannot be doubted that numbers of his experiments were executed merely to test his deductions from that theory. Starting from the discovery of Oersted, the illustrious French philosopher had shown that all the phenomena of magnetism then known might be reduced to the mutual attractions and repulsions of electric currents. Magnetism had been produced from electricity, and Faraday, who all his life long entertained a strong belief in such reciprocal actions, now attempted to effect the evolution of electricity from magnetism. Round a welded iron ring he placed two distinct coils of covered wire, causing the coils to occupy opposite halves of the ring. Connecting the ends of one of the coils with a galvanometer, he found that the moment the ring was magnetized, by sending a current through the other coil, the galvanometer needle whirled round four or five times in succession.

The action, as before, was that of a pulse, which vanished immediately. On interrupting the circuit, a whirl of the needle in the opposite direction occurred. It was only during the time of magnetization or demagnetization that these effects were produced. The induced currents declared a change of condition only, and they vanished the moment the act of magnetization or demagnetization was complete. The effects obtained with the welded ring were also obtained with straight bars of iron.

Whether the bars were magnetized by the electric current, or were excited by the contact of permanent steel magnets, induced currents were always generated during the rise, and during the subsidence of the magnetism. The use of iron was then abandoned, and the same effects were obtained by merely thrusting a permanent steel magnet into a coil of wire. A rush of electricity through the coil accompanied the insertion of the magnet; an equal rush in the opposite direction accompanied its withdrawal. The precision with which Faraday describes these results, and the completeness with which he defines the boundaries of his facts, are wonderful. The magnet, for example, must not be passed quite through the coil, but only half through; for if passed wholly through, the needle is stopped as by a blow, and then he shows how this blow results from a reversal of the electric wave in the helix. He next operated with the powerful permanent magnet of the Royal Society, and obtained with it, in an exalted degree, all the foregoing phenomena.

And now he turned the light of these discoveries upon the darkest physical phenomenon of that day. Arago had discovered, in 1824, that a disk of non-magnetic metal had the power of bringing a vibrating magnetic needle suspended over it rapidly to rest; and that on causing the disk to rotate the magnetic needle rotated along with it. When both were quiescent, there was not the slightest measurable attraction or repulsion exerted between the needle and the disk; still when in motion the disk was competent to drag after it, not only a light needle, but a heavy magnet. The question had been probed and investigated with admirable skill both by Arago and Ampere, and Poisson had published a theoretic memoir on the subject; but no cause could be assigned for so extraordinary an action. Now, however, the time for theory had come.

Faraday saw mentally the rotating disk, under the operation of the magnet, flooded with his induced currents, and from the known laws of interaction between currents and magnets he hoped to deduce the motion observed by Arago. That hope he realized, showing by actual experiment that when his disk rotated currents passed through it, their position and direction being such as must, in accordance with the established laws of electromagnetic action, produce the observed rotation. Introducing the edge of his disk between the poles of the large horseshoe magnet of the Royal Society, and connecting the axis and the edge of the disk, each by a wire with a galvanometer, he obtained, when the disk was turned round, a constant flow of electricity. The direction of the current was determined by the direction of the motion, the current being reversed when the rotation was reversed. He now states the law which rules the production of currents in both disks and wires, and in so doing uses, for the first time, a phrase which has since become famous.

When iron filings are scattered over a magnet, the particles of iron arrange themselves in certain determinate lines called magnetic curves. In 1831, Faraday for the first time called these curves ‘lines of magnetic force’; and he showed that to produce induced currents neither approach to nor withdrawal from a magnetic source, or centre, or pole, was essential, but that it was only necessary to cut appropriately the lines of magnetic force. Faraday’s first paper on Magnetoelectric Induction was read before the Royal Society on the 24th of November, 1831. On January 12, 1832, he communicated to the Royal Society a second paper on Terrestrial Magnetoelectric Induction, which was chosen as the Bakerian Lecture for the year. He placed a bar of iron in a coil of wire, and lifting the bar into the direction of the dipping needle, he excited by this action a current in the coil. On reversing the bar, a current in the opposite direction rushed through the wire. The same effect was produced when, on holding the helix in the line of dip, a bar of iron was thrust into it.

Here, however, the earth acted on the coil through the intermediation of the bar of iron. He abandoned the bar and simply set a copper plate spinning in a horizontal plane; he knew that the earth’s lines of magnetic force then crossed the plate at an angle of about 70. When the plate spun round, the lines of force were intersected and induced currents generated, which produced their proper effect when carried from the plate to the galvanometer. ‘When the plate was in the magnetic meridian, or in any other plane coinciding with the magnetic dip, then its rotation produced no effect upon the galvanometer. And then his thoughts suddenly widen, and he asks himself whether the rotating earth does not generate induced currents as it turns round its axis from west to east. In his experiment with the twirling magnet the galvanometer wire remained at rest; one portion of the circuit was in motion relatively to another portion.

But in the case of the twirling planet the galvanometer wire would necessarily be carried along with the earth; there would be no relative motion. What must be the consequence? Take the case of a telegraph wire with its two terminal plates dipped into the earth, and suppose the wire to lie in the magnetic meridian. The ground underneath the wire is influenced like the wire itself by the earth’s rotation; if a current from south to north be generated in the wire, a similar current from south to north would be generated in the earth under the wire; these currents would run against the same terminal plate, and thus neutralize each other. Seven-and-thirty years have passed since the discovery of magneto-electricity; but, if we except the extra current, until quite recently nothing of moment was added to the subject. Faraday entertained the opinion that the discoverer of a great law or principle had a right to the ‘spoils’–this was his term–arising from its illustration; and guided by the principle he had discovered, his wonderful mind, aided by his wonderful ten fingers, overran in a single autumn this vast domain, and hardly left behind him the shred of a fact to be gathered by his successors. And here the question may arise in some minds, What is the use of it all? The answer is, that if man’s intellectual nature thirsts for knowledge, then knowledge is useful because it satisfies this thirst. If you demand practical ends, you must, I think, expand your definition of the term practical, and make it include all that elevates and enlightens the intellect, as well as all that ministers to the bodily health and comfort of men. Still, if needed, an answer of another kind might be given to the question ‘What is its use?’ As far as electricity has been applied for medical purposes, it has been almost exclusively Faraday’s electricity.

You have noticed those lines of wire which cross the streets of cities all over the world. It is Faraday’s currents that speed from place to place through these wires. What has been the practical use of the labors of Faraday? But I would again emphatically say, that his work needs no such justification, and that if he had allowed his vision to be disturbed by considerations regarding the practical use of his discoveries, those discoveries would never have been made by him. ‘I have rather,’ he writes in 1831, ‘been desirous of discovering new facts and new relations dependent on magneto-electric induction, than of exalting the force of those already obtained; being assured that the latter would find their full development hereafter.’ Physics.