Energy Transferred by Working
Electricity and Magnetism

Transformer action

Classroom Activity for 14-16 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

This is an interactive teacher demonstration that can be used to explore and to get students talking about various aspects of electromagnetic induction in the context of a simple transformer.

What to Prepare

  • a mounted 2.5 V filament bulb
  • a low-voltage AC power supply, 0–12 volt
  • 2 (120 + 120)-turn coils
  • an iron retort stand
  • connecting wires

What Happens During this Activity

This demonstration might be carried out after electromagnetic induction has been introduced. It then provides a way into thinking and talking about transformers. The main aim is to get students talking about what they can see happening. The demonstration can be carried out in a series of steps.

Start simple – with a single glowing bulb (we used a 2.5 volt bulb) connected to the AC low-voltage output of a power supply. Switch on to about 3.0 volt and the bulb lights nice and bright. No surprise there!

Now set the challenge:

Teacher: How can we light the bulb without connecting it up to this kind of power supply or to a battery?

Using coils to make a link

Connect the bulb to a 240-turn coil of wire.

Teacher: How might connecting the bulb to a coil of wire help in making it light up?

Place the second 240-turn coil at the bottom of an iron retort stand and connect it to the alternating supply still set at about 3.0 volt. Now place the coil connected to the bulb over the retort stand. Nothing happens… until the second coil (with bulb) is slid down the vertical stand.

Concluding the demonstration

The bulb lights, getting brighter the further the secondary coil is moved down the iron rod.

This simple demonstration is based on some fascinating physics and provides an excellent opportunity for students to talk through quite a complicated, multi–step explanation based on electromagnetic induction. The first point you might make:

Teacher: Look! The bulb is not connected to the supply and yet it lights! The first coil is connected to the supply but there's no connection to the second coil. What on Earth's going on here? Who can explain?

The explanation to move towards is as follows:

The changing potential difference from the supply drives a changing electric current round the lower coil or primary.

The changing electric current in the lower coil produces a changing magnetic field. When the current is zero, the field is zero; when the current is a maximum, the magnetic field is at maximum strength.

The changing magnetic field is carried by the retort stand core and links the secondary (upper) coil to the primary (lower) coil.

The changing magnetic field linking the upper coil induces a changing voltage across this secondary coil.

The changing voltage across the upper coil drives a changing current in that coil and in the bulb, making it light.

Further questions to ask, and some (smart) students' answers:

Teacher: So why does the bulb get dimmer as the upper coil is moved up the retort stand?

Bill: There must be a weakening of the magnetic field as you go higher.

Teacher: What happens if the bulb is connected to 120 turns rather than across all 240? Try it!

Emily: The bulb goes dimmer. This is because a smaller voltage is induced across the secondary coil as there are a smaller number of terms. We have a simple step–down transformer!

Energy Transferred by Working
appears in the relation dU=dQ+dW
is used in analyses relating to Working Engines Thermionic Emission
is a special case of Work
has the special case Potential Energy Kinetic Energy
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