First discovered in the early 1800s, magnetic inductors are a vital part of electronics assemblies, used extensively in some form in nearly every electronic application. At its simplest, an inductor is just a small coil of wire with two terminals at either end which store energy inside of a magnetic field when a current passes through the wire.
Today, inductors range from a single loop to large and lengthy coils of wire, with new technologies allowing manufacturers to produce small and more efficient inductors with greater capacity. Coil inductance changes according to coil shape and the material being used in the coil, and the size and length of the wire. Greater coil density or adding a core of magnetizable material to the inductor increases its capacity, but generally increases the size of the component.
Despite these initial limitations of size, inductors have proven to be widely useful and highly customizable. They can separate signals of different frequencies, prevent radio frequency interference on a cable, tune into a specific circuit (a vital part of TV receivers), store energy in switched-mode power supplies, and limit switching currents and fault currents in electrical transmission systems. They’re found in tuning circuits, sensors, induction motors, filters, power grids, relays, and much more. And yet while other basic electronics components have advanced, magnetic inductors have changed very little from that initial, simple design.
However, recent research and technological developments have been paving the way for new kinds of conductors, allowing for more flexibility in the inductor’s design. For instance, a research lab in UC Santa Barbara experimented with kinetic inductance, using graphene to make a high inductance-density nanomaterial. The development of superconductors, which can conduct electricity without any electrical resistance, has also shown promise, though they typically require extreme temperatures to function properly. However, new research is being enacted daily, finding new ways to improve and expand the capabilities of modern electronic assemblies.
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