Barkhausen Effect

The Barkhausen effect makes the concept of magnetic domains audible (if not exactly music to the ear).

During experiments carried out in 1919 involving magnetism and acoustics, German scientist Heinrich Barkhausen provided convincing evidence that iron and other ferromagnetic materials are magnetized in small, distinct intervals rather than in a smooth, continuous manner, as had been theorized. Barkhausen did so by connecting a wire coil surrounding an iron core to an amplifier, then bringing a magnet close to the coil.

Any signal picked up by the amplifier was sent to a speaker, which enabled Barkhausen to hear a progression of clicking noises whenever he moved the magnet. The sound reflects the shifting of what are known as magnetic domains in the iron. Magnetic domains are microscopic areas in the iron in which the atoms – each a kind of tiny magnet with its own tiny magnetic field – are all aligned in the same direction. When the bar magnet is moved near the core, those domains within the iron gradually realign with the field of the magnet. Due to electromagnetic induction, the shifting of a domain creates a change in the magnetic field around the iron, and that changing magnetic field induces a current in the surrounding coil detectable by the amplifier.

A magnet, a long copper coil, an amplifier and a speaker are presented in this tutorial demonstrating the Barkhausen effect. The magnet can be moved along the outside of the coil by adjusting the Magnet Position slider. An iron core is located inside the copper coil when the tutorial initializes, but it can be removed by unchecking the Iron Core check box.

When the iron core is in position and the magnet is moved along the outside of the coil, discrete jumps in the output of the amplifier can be observed in the Amplifier Output graph. A crackling sound similar to what is actually produced as domains in the iron “snap” and “click” into place can also be heard through your computer speakers. If the iron core is removed from the coil, there is no reorientation of atoms and, therefore, no sound or amplifier output.

Last modified on 28 January 2015