Electromagnetic shielding

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Electromagnetic shielding cages inside a disassembled mobile phone. Electromagnetic shielding inside mobile phone.jpg
Electromagnetic shielding cages inside a disassembled mobile phone.

Electromagnetic shielding is the practice of reducing the electromagnetic field in a space by blocking the field with barriers made of conductive or magnetic materials. Shielding is typically applied to enclosures to isolate electrical devices from their surroundings, and to cables to isolate wires from the environment through which the cable runs. Electromagnetic shielding that blocks radio frequency electromagnetic radiation is also known as RF shielding.

Electromagnetic field physical field produced by electrically charged objects

An electromagnetic field is a physical field produced by electrically charged objects. It affects the behavior of charged objects in the vicinity of the field. The electromagnetic field extends indefinitely throughout space and describes the electromagnetic interaction. It is one of the four fundamental forces of nature.

Electrical conductor object or material which permits the flow of electricity

In physics and electrical engineering, a conductor is an object or type of material that allows the flow of an electrical current in one or more directions. Materials made of metal are common electrical conductors. Electrical current is generated by the flow of negatively charged electrons, positively charged holes, and positive or negative ions in some cases.

Radio frequency (RF) is the oscillation rate of an alternating electric current or voltage or of a magnetic, electric or electromagnetic field or mechanical system in the frequency range from around twenty thousand times per second to around three hundred billion times per second. This is roughly between the upper limit of audio frequencies and the lower limit of infrared frequencies; these are the frequencies at which energy from an oscillating current can radiate off a conductor into space as radio waves. Different sources specify different upper and lower bounds for the frequency range.


The shielding can reduce the coupling of radio waves, electromagnetic fields, and electrostatic fields. A conductive enclosure used to block electrostatic fields is also known as a Faraday cage. The amount of reduction depends very much upon the material used, its thickness, the size of the shielded volume and the frequency of the fields of interest and the size, shape and orientation of apertures in a shield to an incident electromagnetic field.

In electronics and telecommunication, coupling is the desirable or undesirable transfer of energy from one medium, such as a metallic wire or an optical fiber, to another medium.

Faraday cage enclosure of conductive mesh used to block electric fields

A Faraday cage or Faraday shield is an enclosure used to block electromagnetic fields. A Faraday shield may be formed by a continuous covering of conductive material, or in the case of a Faraday cage, by a mesh of such materials. Faraday cages are named after the English scientist Michael Faraday, who invented them in 1836.

Materials used

Typical materials used for electromagnetic shielding include sheet metal, metal screen, and metal foam. Any holes in the shield or mesh must be significantly smaller than the wavelength of the radiation that is being kept out, or the enclosure will not effectively approximate an unbroken conducting surface.

Sheet metal metal formed by an industrial process into thin, flat pieces

Sheet metal is metal formed by an industrial process into thin, flat pieces. Sheet metal is one of the fundamental forms used in metalworking and it can be cut and bent into a variety of shapes. Countless everyday objects are fabricated from sheet metal. Thicknesses can vary significantly; extremely thin sheets are considered foil or leaf, and pieces thicker than 6 mm (0.25 in) are considered plate steel or "structural steel."

Metal foam

A metal foam is a cellular structure consisting of a solid metal with gas-filled pores comprising a large portion of the volume. The pores can be sealed or interconnected. The defining characteristic of metal foams is a high porosity: typically only 5–25% of the volume is the base metal, making these ultralight materials. The strength of the material is due to the square-cube law.

Wavelength spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the waves shape repeats, and thus the inverse of the spatial frequency

In physics, the wavelength is the spatial period of a periodic wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats. It is thus the inverse of the spatial frequency. Wavelength is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings and is a characteristic of both traveling waves and standing waves, as well as other spatial wave patterns. Wavelength is commonly designated by the Greek letter lambda (λ). The term wavelength is also sometimes applied to modulated waves, and to the sinusoidal envelopes of modulated waves or waves formed by interference of several sinusoids.

Another commonly used shielding method, especially with electronic goods housed in plastic enclosures, is to coat the inside of the enclosure with a metallic ink or similar material. The ink consists of a carrier material loaded with a suitable metal, typically copper or nickel, in the form of very small particulates. It is sprayed on to the enclosure and, once dry, produces a continuous conductive layer of metal, which can be electrically connected to the chassis ground of the equipment, thus providing effective shielding.

Copper Chemical element with atomic number 29

Copper is a chemical element with symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a soft, malleable, and ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. A freshly exposed surface of pure copper has a pinkish-orange color. Copper is used as a conductor of heat and electricity, as a building material, and as a constituent of various metal alloys, such as sterling silver used in jewelry, cupronickel used to make marine hardware and coins, and constantan used in strain gauges and thermocouples for temperature measurement.

Nickel Chemical element with atomic number 28

Nickel is a chemical element with symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile. Pure nickel, powdered to maximize the reactive surface area, shows a significant chemical activity, but larger pieces are slow to react with air under standard conditions because an oxide layer forms on the surface and prevents further corrosion (passivation). Even so, pure native nickel is found in Earth's crust only in tiny amounts, usually in ultramafic rocks, and in the interiors of larger nickel–iron meteorites that were not exposed to oxygen when outside Earth's atmosphere.

A chassis ground is a link between different metallic parts of a machine to ensure an electrical connection between them. Examples include electronic instruments and motor vehicles.

Electromagnetic shielding is the process of lowering the electromagnetic field in an area by barricading it with conductive or magnetic material. Copper is used for radio frequency (RF) shielding because it absorbs radio and electromagnetic waves. Properly designed and constructed copper RF shielding enclosures satisfy most RF shielding needs, from computer and electrical switching rooms to hospital CAT-scan and MRI facilities. [1] [2]

Radio wave type of electromagnetic radiation

Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum longer than infrared light. Radio waves have frequencies as high as 300 gigahertz (GHz) to as low as 30 hertz (Hz). At 300 GHz, the corresponding wavelength is 1 mm, and at 30 Hz is 10,000 km. Like all other electromagnetic waves, radio waves travel at the speed of light. They are generated by electric charges undergoing acceleration, such as time varying electric currents. Naturally occurring radio waves are emitted by lightning and astronomical objects.

Example applications

Cross-section through a coaxial cable showing shielding and other layers Coaxial cable cutaway.svg
Cross-section through a coaxial cable showing shielding and other layers

One example is a shielded cable, which has electromagnetic shielding in the form of a wire mesh surrounding an inner core conductor. The shielding impedes the escape of any signal from the core conductor, and also prevents signals from being added to the core conductor. Some cables have two separate coaxial screens, one connected at both ends, the other at one end only, to maximize shielding of both electromagnetic and electrostatic fields.

Shielded cable electrical conductors enclosed by a conductive layer

A shielded cable or screened cable is an electrical cable of one or more insulated conductors enclosed by a common conductive layer. The shield may be composed of braided strands of copper, a non-braided spiral winding of copper tape, or a layer of conducting polymer. Usually this shield is covered with a jacket.


In geometry, coaxial means that two or more three-dimensional linear forms share a common axis. Thus, it is concentric in three-dimensional, linear forms.

The door of a microwave oven has a screen built into the window. From the perspective of microwaves (with wavelengths of 12 cm) this screen finishes a Faraday cage formed by the oven's metal housing. Visible light, with wavelengths ranging between 400 nm and 700 nm, passes easily through the screen holes.

RF shielding is also used to prevent access to data stored on RFID chips embedded in various devices, such as biometric passports. [3]

NATO specifies electromagnetic shielding for computers and keyboards to prevent passive monitoring of keyboard emissions that would allow passwords to be captured; consumer keyboards do not offer this protection primarily because of the prohibitive cost. [4]

RF shielding is also used to protect medical and laboratory equipment to provide protection against interfering signals, including AM, FM, TV, emergency services, dispatch, pagers, ESMR, cellular, and PCS. It can also be used to protect the equipment at the AM, FM or TV broadcast facilities.

How it works

Electromagnetic radiation consists of coupled electric and magnetic fields. The electric field produces forces on the charge carriers (i.e., electrons) within the conductor. As soon as an electric field is applied to the surface of an ideal conductor, it induces a current that causes displacement of charge inside the conductor that cancels the applied field inside, at which point the current stops.

Similarly, varying magnetic fields generate eddy currents that act to cancel the applied magnetic field. (The conductor does not respond to static magnetic fields unless the conductor is moving relative to the magnetic field.) The result is that electromagnetic radiation is reflected from the surface of the conductor: internal fields stay inside, and external fields stay outside.

Several factors serve to limit the shielding capability of real RF shields. One is that, due to the electrical resistance of the conductor, the excited field does not completely cancel the incident field. Also, most conductors exhibit a ferromagnetic response to low-frequency magnetic fields, so that such fields are not fully attenuated by the conductor. Any holes in the shield force current to flow around them, so that fields passing through the holes do not excite opposing electromagnetic fields. These effects reduce the field-reflecting capability of the shield.

In the case of high-frequency electromagnetic radiation, the above-mentioned adjustments take a non-negligible amount of time, yet any such radiation energy, as far as it is not reflected, is absorbed by the skin (unless it is extremely thin), so in this case there is no electromagnetic field inside either. This is one aspect of a greater phenomenon called the skin effect. A measure of the depth to which radiation can penetrate the shield is the so-called skin depth.

Magnetic shielding

Equipment sometimes requires isolation from external magnetic fields. For static or slowly varying magnetic fields (below about 100 kHz) the Faraday shielding described above is ineffective. In these cases shields made of high magnetic permeability metal alloys can be used, such as sheets of permalloy and mu-metal [5] [6] or with nanocrystalline grain structure ferromagnetic metal coatings. [7] These materials don't block the magnetic field, as with electric shielding, but rather draw the field into themselves, providing a path for the magnetic field lines around the shielded volume. The best shape for magnetic shields is thus a closed container surrounding the shielded volume. The effectiveness of this type of shielding depends on the material's permeability, which generally drops off at both very low magnetic field strengths and at high field strengths where the material becomes saturated. So to achieve low residual fields, magnetic shields often consist of several enclosures one inside the other, each of which successively reduces the field inside it.

Because of the above limitations of passive shielding, an alternative used with static or low-frequency fields is active shielding; using a field created by electromagnets to cancel the ambient field within a volume. [8] Solenoids and Helmholtz coils are types of coils that can be used for this purpose.

Additionally, superconducting materials can expel magnetic fields via the Meissner effect.

Mathematical model

Suppose that we have a spherical shell of a (linear and isotropic) diamagnetic material with permeability , with inner radius and outer radius . We then put this object in a constant magnetic field:

Since there are no currents in this problem except for possible bound currents on the boundaries of the diamagnetic material, then we can define a magnetic scalar potential that satisfies Laplace's equation:


In this particular problem there is azimuthal symmetry so we can write down that the solution to Laplace's equation in spherical coordinates is:

After matching the boundary conditions

at the boundaries (where is a unit vector that is normal to the surface pointing from side 1 to side 2), then we find that the magnetic field inside the cavity in the spherical shell is:

where is an attenuation coefficient that depends on the thickness of the diamagnetic material and the magnetic permeability of the material:

This coefficient describes the effectiveness of this material in shielding the external magnetic field from the cavity that it surrounds. Notice that this coefficient appropriately goes to 1 (no shielding) in the limit that . In the limit that this coefficient goes to 0 (perfect shielding), then the attenuation coefficient takes on the simpler form:

which shows that the magnetic field decreases like . [9]

NOTE: In the above relations, is relative permeability µr, which is the ratio of the permeability of a specific medium to the permeability of free space µ0:

where µ0 = 4π × 107 N A2.

See also

Related Research Articles

Inductor passive two-terminal electrical component that stores energy in its magnetic field

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The wave impedance of an electromagnetic wave is the ratio of the transverse components of the electric and magnetic fields. For a transverse-electric-magnetic (TEM) plane wave traveling through a homogeneous medium, the wave impedance is everywhere equal to the intrinsic impedance of the medium. In particular, for a plane wave travelling through empty space, the wave impedance is equal to the impedance of free space. The symbol Z is used to represent it and it is expressed in units of ohms. The symbol η (eta) may be used instead of Z for wave impedance to avoid confusion with electrical impedance.

Coaxial cable A type of electrical cable with an inner conductor surrounded by concentric insulating layer and conducting shield

Coaxial cable, or coax is a type of electrical cable that has an inner conductor surrounded by a tubular insulating layer, surrounded by a tubular conducting shield. Many coaxial cables also have an insulating outer sheath or jacket. The term coaxial comes from the inner conductor and the outer shield sharing a geometric axis. Coaxial cable was invented by English engineer and mathematician Oliver Heaviside, who patented the design in 1880.

Poynting vector

In physics, the Poynting vector represents the directional energy flux of an electromagnetic field. The SI unit of the Poynting vector is the watt per square metre (W/m2). It is named after its discoverer John Henry Poynting who first derived it in 1884. Oliver Heaviside also discovered it independently.

Magnet material or object that produces a magnetic field

A magnet is a material or object that produces a magnetic field. This magnetic field is invisible but is responsible for the most notable property of a magnet: a force that pulls on other ferromagnetic materials, such as iron, and attracts or repels other magnets.

Solenoid HCNE1-1253

A solenoid is a coil wound into a tightly packed helix. The term was invented in 1823 by André-Marie Ampère to designate a helical coil.

Skin effect

Skin effect is the tendency of an alternating electric current (AC) to become distributed within a conductor such that the current density is largest near the surface of the conductor, and decreases with greater depths in the conductor. The electric current flows mainly at the "skin" of the conductor, between the outer surface and a level called the skin depth. The skin effect causes the effective resistance of the conductor to increase at higher frequencies where the skin depth is smaller, thus reducing the effective cross-section of the conductor. The skin effect is due to opposing eddy currents induced by the changing magnetic field resulting from the alternating current. At 60 Hz in copper, the skin depth is about 8.5 mm. At high frequencies the skin depth becomes much smaller. Increased AC resistance due to the skin effect can be mitigated by using specially woven litz wire. Because the interior of a large conductor carries so little of the current, tubular conductors such as pipe can be used to save weight and cost.

Eddy currents are loops of electrical current induced within conductors by a changing magnetic field in the conductor according to Faraday's law of induction. Eddy currents flow in closed loops within conductors, in planes perpendicular to the magnetic field. They can be induced within nearby stationary conductors by a time-varying magnetic field created by an AC electromagnet or transformer, for example, or by relative motion between a magnet and a nearby conductor. The magnitude of the current in a given loop is proportional to the strength of the magnetic field, the area of the loop, and the rate of change of flux, and inversely proportional to the resistivity of the material. When graphed, these circular currents within a piece of metal look vaguely like eddies or whirlpools in a liquid.

Induction heating is the process of heating an electrically conducting object by electromagnetic induction, through heat generated in the object by eddy currents. An induction heater consists of an electromagnet, and an electronic oscillator that passes a high-frequency alternating current (AC) through the electromagnet. The rapidly alternating magnetic field penetrates the object, generating electric currents inside the conductor called eddy currents. The eddy currents flowing through the resistance of the material heat it by Joule heating. In ferromagnetic materials like iron, heat may also be generated by magnetic hysteresis losses. The frequency of current used depends on the object size, material type, coupling and the penetration depth.

Permeability (electromagnetism) measure of the ability of a material to support the formation of a magnetic field within itself

In electromagnetism, permeability is the measure of the ability of a material to support the formation of a magnetic field within itself otherwise known as distributed inductance in Transmission Line Theory. Hence, it is the degree of magnetization that a material obtains in response to an applied magnetic field. Magnetic permeability is typically represented by the (italicized) Greek letter µ. The term was coined in September 1885 by Oliver Heaviside. The reciprocal of magnetic permeability is magnetic reluctivity.

Helmholtz coil

A Helmholtz coil is a device for producing a region of nearly uniform magnetic field, named after the German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. It consists of two electromagnets on the same axis. Besides creating magnetic fields, Helmholtz coils are also used in scientific apparatus to cancel external magnetic fields, such as the Earth's magnetic field.

Larmor precession

In physics, Larmor precession is the precession of the magnetic moment of an object about an external magnetic field. Objects with a magnetic moment also have angular momentum and effective internal electric current proportional to their angular momentum; these include electrons, protons, other fermions, many atomic and nuclear systems, as well as classical macroscopic systems. The external magnetic field exerts a torque on the magnetic moment,

Pinch (plasma physics) compression of an electrically conducting filament by magnetic forces

A pinch is the compression of an electrically conducting filament by magnetic forces. The conductor is usually a plasma, but could also be a solid or liquid metal. Pinches were the first type of device used for controlled nuclear fusion.

The word electricity refers generally to the movement of electrons through a conductor in the presence of potential and an electric field. The speed of this flow has multiple meanings. In everyday electrical and electronic devices, the signals or energy travel as electromagnetic waves typically on the order of 50%–99% of the speed of light, while the electrons themselves move (drift) much more slowly.

Proximity effect (electromagnetism)

In a conductor carrying alternating current, if currents are flowing through one or more other nearby conductors, such as within a closely wound coil of wire, the distribution of current within the first conductor will be constrained to smaller regions. The resulting current crowding is termed the proximity effect. This crowding gives an increase in the effective resistance of the circuit, which increases with frequency.

Microwave cavity

A microwave cavity or radio frequency (RF) cavity is a special type of resonator, consisting of a closed metal structure that confines electromagnetic fields in the microwave region of the spectrum. The structure is either hollow or filled with dielectric material. The microwaves bounce back and forth between the walls of the cavity. At the cavity's resonant frequencies they reinforce to form standing waves in the cavity. Therefore, the cavity functions similarly to an organ pipe or sound box in a musical instrument, oscillating preferentially at a series of frequencies, its resonant frequencies. Thus it can act as a bandpass filter, allowing microwaves of a particular frequency to pass while blocking microwaves at nearby frequencies.

The article Ferromagnetic material properties is intended to contain a glossary of terms used to describe ferromagnetic materials, and magnetic cores.

Magnetic levitation method by which an object is suspended with no support other than magnetic fields

Magnetic levitation, maglev, or magnetic suspension is a method by which an object is suspended with no support other than magnetic fields. Magnetic force is used to counteract the effects of the gravitational acceleration and any other accelerations.


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