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Magnetic Field of a Current Loop


By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain how the Biot-Savart law is used to determine the magnetic field due to a current in a loop of wire at a point along a line perpendicular to thep lane of the loop.
  • Determine the magnetic field of an arc of current.

The circular loop of Figure 9.4.1 has a radius

, carries a current

, and lies in the

-plane. What is the magnetic field due to the current at an arbitrary point

along the axis of the loop?

(Figure 9.4.1)

Figure 9.4.1 Determining the magnetic field at point P along the axis of a current-carrying loop of wire

We can use the Biot-Savart law to find the magnetic field due to a current. We first consider arbitrary segments on opposite sides of the loop to qualitatively show by the vector results that the net magnetic field direction is along the central axis from the loop. From there, we can use the Biot-Savart law to derive the expression for magnetic field.


be a distance

from the centre of the loop. From the right-hand rule, the magnetic field


, produced by the current element

, is directed at an angle

above the

-axis as shown. Since

is parallel along the

-axis and

is in the

-plane, the two vectors are perpendicular, so we have


where we have used


Now consider the magnetic field

due to the current element

, which is directly opposite

on the loop. The magnitude of

is also given by Equation 9.4.1, but it is directed at an angle

below the

-axis. The components of


perpendicular to the

-axis therefore cancel, and in calculating the net magnetic field, only the components along the

-axis need to be considered. The components perpendicular to the axis of the loop sum to zero in pairs. Hence at point



For all elements

on the wire,


, and

are constant and are related by

Now from Equation 9.4.2, the magnetic field at



where we have used

. As discussed in the previous chapter, the closed current loop is a magnetic dipole of moment

. For this example,


, so the magnetic field at

can also be written as


By setting

in Equation 9.4.4, we obtain the magnetic field at the centre of the loop:


This equation becomes

for a flat coil of n loops per length. It can also be expressed as


If we consider

in Equation 9.4.4, the expression reduces to an expression known as the magnetic field from a dipole:


The calculation of the magnetic field due to the circular current loop at points off-axis requires rather complex mathematics, so we’ll just look at the results. The magnetic field lines are shaped as shown in Figure 9.4.2. Notice that one field line follows the axis of the loop. This is the field line we just found. Also, very close to the wire, the field lines are almost circular, like the lines of a long straight wire.

Figure 9.4.2 Sketch of the magnetic field lines of a circular current loop.


Magnetic Field between Two Loops

Two loops of wire carry the same current of

, but flow in opposite directions as seen in Figure 9.4.3. One loop is measured to have a radius of

while the other loop has a radius of

. The distance from the first loop to the point where the magnetic field is measured is

, and the distance from that point to the second loop is

. What is the magnitude of the net magnetic field at point


Figure 9.4.3 Two loops of different radii have the same current but flowing in opposite directions. The magnetic field at point P is measured to be zero.


The magnetic field at point

has been determined in Equation 9.4.3. Since the currents are flowing in opposite directions, the net magnetic field is the difference between the two fields generated by the coils. Using the given quantities in the problem, the net magnetic field is then calculated.


Solving for the net magnetic field using Equation 9.4.3 and the given quantities in the problem yields


Helmholtz coils typically have loops with equal radii with current flowing in the same direction to have a strong uniform field at the midpoint between the loops. A similar application of the magnetic field distribution created by Helmholtz coils is found in a magnetic bottle that can temporarily trap charged particles. See Magnetic Forces and Fields for a discussion on this.


Using Example 9.4.1, at what distance would you have to move the first coil to have zero measurable magnetic field at point


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