A Source Book in Physics

Author: Henry Augustus Rowland  | Date: 1878

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The Magnetic Effect of Electric Convection

The experiments described in this paper were made with a view of determining whether or not an electrified body in motion produces magnetic effects. There seems to be no theoretical ground upon which we can settle the question, seeing that the magnetic action of a conducted electric current may be ascribed to some mutual action between the conductor and the current. Hence an experiment is of value. Professor Maxwell, in his "Treatise on Electricity," Art. 770, has computed the magnetic action of a moving electrified surface, but that the action exists has not yet been proved experimentally or theoretically.

The apparatus employed consisted of a vulcanite disc 21.1 centimetres in diameter and .5 centimetre thick which could be made to revolve around a vertical axis with a velocity of 61 turns per second. On either side of the disc at a distance of .6 cm. were fixed glass plates having a diameter of 38.9 cm. and a hole in the centre of 7.8 cm. The vulcanite disc was gilded on both sides and the glass plates had an annular ring of gilt on one side, the outside and inside diameters being 24.0 cm. and 8.9 cm. respectively. The gilt sides could be turned toward or from the revolving disc but were usually turned toward it so that the problem might be calculated more readily and there should be no uncertainty as to the electrification. The outside plates were usually connected with the earth; and the inside disc with an electric battery, by means of a point which approached within one-third of a millimetre of the edge and turned toward it. As the edge was broad, the point would not discharge unless there was a difference of potential between it and the edge. Between the electric battery and the disc, a commutator was placed, so that the potential of the latter could be made plus or minus at will. All parts of the apparatus were of non-magnetic material.

Over the surface of the disc was suspended, from a bracket in the wall, an extremely delicate astatic needle, protected from electric action and currents of air by a brass tube. The two needles were 1.5 cm. long and their centres 17.98 cm. distant from each other. The readings were by a telescope and scale. The opening in the tube for observing the mirror was protected from electrical action by a metallic cone, the mirror being at its vertex. So perfectly was this accomplished that no effect of electrical action was apparent either on charging the battery or reversing the electrification of the disc. The needles were so far apart that any action of the disc would be many fold greater on the lower needle than the upper. The direction of the needles was that of the motion of the disc directly below them, that is, perpendicular to the radius drawn from the axis to the needle. As the support of the needle was the wail of the laboratory and the revolving disc was on a table beneath it, the needle was reasonably free from vibration.

In the first experiments with this apparatus no effect was observed other than a constant deflection which was reversed with the direction of the motion. This was finally traced to the magnetism of rotation of the axis and was afterward greatly reduced by turning down the axis to .9 cm. diameter. On now rendering the needle more sensitive and taking several other precautions a distinct effect was observed of several millimetres on reversing the electrification and it was separated from the effect of magnetism of rotation by keeping the motion constant and reversing the electrification. As the effect of the magnetism of rotation was several times that of the moving electricity, and the needle was so extremely sensitive, numerical results were extremely hard to be obtained, and it is only after weeks of trial that reasonably accurate results have been obtained. But the qualitative effect, after once being obtained, never failed. In hundreds of observations extending over many weeks, the needle always answered to a change of electrification of the disc. Also on raising the potential above zero the action was the reverse of that when it was lowered below. The swing of the needle on reversing the electrification was about 10 or 15 millimetres and therefore the point of equilibrium was altered 5 or 7½ millimetres. This quantity varied with the electrification, the velocity of motion, the sensitiveness of the needle, etc.

The direction of the action may be thus defined. Calling the motion of the disc + when it moved like the hands of a watch laid on the table with its face up, we have the following, the needles being over one side of the disc, with the north pole pointing in the direction of positive motion. The motion being +, on electrifying the disc + the north pole moved toward the axis, and on changing the electrification, the north pole moved away from the axis. With − motion and + electrification, the north pole moved away from the axis, and with − electrification, it moved toward the axis. The direction is therefore that in which we should expect it to be.

To prevent any suspicion of currents in the gilded surfaces, the latter, in many experiments, were divided into small portions by radial scratches, so that no tangential currents could take place without sufficient difference of potential to produce sparks. But to be perfectly certain, the gilded disc was replaced by a plane thin glass plate which could be electrified by points on one side, a gilded induction plate at zero potential being on the other. With this arrangement, effects in the same direction as before were obtained, but smaller in quantity, seeing that only one side of the plate could be electrified.

The inductor plates were now removed, leaving the disc perfectly free, and the latter was once more gilded with a continuous gold surface, having only an opening around the axis of 3.5 cm. The gilding of the disc was connected with the axis and so was at a potential of zero. On one side of the plate, two small inductors formed of pieces of tinfoil on glass plates, were supported, having the disc between them. On electrifying these, the disc at the points opposite them was electrified by induction but there could be no electrification except at points near the inductors. On now revolving the disc, if the inductors were very small, the electricity would remain nearly at rest and the plate would as it were revolve through it. Hence in this case we should have conduction without motion of electricity, while in the first experiment we had motion without conduction. I have used the term "nearly at rest" in the above, for the following reasons. As the disc revolves the electricity is being constantly conducted in the plate so as to retain its position. Now the function which expresses the potential producing these currents and its differential coefficients must be continuous throughout the disc, and so these currents must pervade the whole disc.

To calculate these currents we have two ways. Either we can consider the electricity at rest and the motion of the disc through it to produce an electromotive force in the direction of motion and proportional to the velocity of motion, to the electrification, and to the surface resistance; or, as Professor Helmholtz has suggested, we can consider the electricity to move with the disc and as it comes to the edge of the inductor to be set free to return by conduction currents to the other edge of the inductor so as to supply the loss there. The problem is capable of solution in the case of a disc without a hole in the centre but the results are too complicated to be of much use. Hence scratches were made on the disc in concentric circles about .6 cm. apart by which the radial component of the currents was destroyed and the problem became easily calculable.

For, let the inductor cover

part of the circumference of any one of the conducting circles; then, if C is a constant, the current in the circle outside the inductor will be
and inside the area of the inductor
On the latter is superposed the convection current equal to +C. Hence the motion of electricity throughout the whole circle is 1/n what it would have been had the inductor covered the whole circle.

In one experiment n was about 8. By comparison with the other experiments we know that had electric conduction alone produced effect we should have observed at the telescope − 5. mm. Had electric convection alone produced magnetic effect we should have had +5.7 mm. And if they both had effect it would have been +.7 mm., which is practically zero in the presence of so many disturbing causes. No effect was discovered or at least no certain effect, though every care was used. Hence we may conclude with reasonable certainty that electricity produces nearly if not quite the same magnetic effect in the case of convection as of conduction, provided the same quantity of electricity passes a given point in the convection stream as in the conduction stream.

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Chicago: Henry Augustus Rowland, "The Magnetic Effect of Electric Convection," A Source Book in Physics in A Source Book in Physics, ed. William Frances Magie (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935), 538–541. Original Sources, accessed March 29, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DMM6DT5GC8VFVF3.

MLA: Rowland, Henry Augustus. "The Magnetic Effect of Electric Convection." A Source Book in Physics, Vol. 15, in A Source Book in Physics, edited by William Frances Magie, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1935, pp. 538–541. Original Sources. 29 Mar. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DMM6DT5GC8VFVF3.

Harvard: Rowland, HA, 'The Magnetic Effect of Electric Convection' in A Source Book in Physics. cited in 1935, A Source Book in Physics, ed. , Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp.538–541. Original Sources, retrieved 29 March 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DMM6DT5GC8VFVF3.