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Electromagnetic shielding

Electromagnetic shielding is the process of limiting the flow of electromagnetic fields between two locations, by separating them with a barrier made of conductive material. Typically it is applied to enclosures, separating electrical devices from the 'outside world', and to cables, separating wires from the environment the cable runs through. Electromagnetic shielding used to block radio frequency electromagnetic radiation is also known as RF shielding.

The shielding can reduce the coupling of radio waves, electromagnetic fields and electrostatic fields, though not static or low-frequency magnetic 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, and the frequency of the fields of interest.


Materials used

Typical materials used for electromagnetic shielding include sheet metal, metal mesh, metal foam, and plasma (ionized gas). 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.

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.

Example applications

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 signals from being added to the core conductor. Some cables have two separate concentric screens, one connected at both ends, the other at one end only, to maximize shielding of both electromagnetic and electrostatic fields.

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 900 nm, passes easily between the wires.

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

How RF shielding 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 current vortices that act to cancel the applied magnetic field. (The conductor does not respond to static magnetic fields, so static magnetic fields can penetrate the conductor freely.) 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. But then the 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 called the skin effect. A measure for the depth to which radiation can penetrate the shield is the so-called skin depth.

How magnetic shielding works

Physics experiments sometimes require isolation from external magnetic fields. Medical equipment using intense magnetic fields need to be isolated from the outside world. There exists a limited possibility of passively isolating a volume magnetically by using high permeability (electromagnetism) materials such as steel or Mu-metal[1]. Magnetic Flux seeks a path through permeable material, but only up until the material is saturated. Because of the limited ability to passively shield medical equipment it is often being shielded actively by using another magnet to cancel out some of the excess magnetic field.[2] Additionally, superconducting materials can expulse magnetic fields via the Meissner effect.

See also


  1. ^ [1]Magnetic shielding. Lecture notes from the University of Texas.
  2. ^ [2]NMR Magnet Shielding: The seat of the pants guide to understanding the problems of shielding NMR magnets.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Electromagnetic_shielding". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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