Eddy currents (also called Foucault currents) are loops of electrical current induced within conductors by a changing magnetic field in the conductor due 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.
By Lenz's law, an eddy current creates a magnetic field that opposes the change in the magnetic field that created it, and thus eddy currents react back on the source of the magnetic field. For example, a nearby conductive surface will exert a drag force on a moving magnet that opposes its motion, due to eddy currents induced in the surface by the moving magnetic field. This effect is employed in eddy current brakes which are used to stop rotating power tools quickly when they are turned off. The current flowing through the resistance of the conductor also dissipates energy as heat in the material. Thus eddy currents are a cause of energy loss in alternating current (AC) inductors, transformers, electric motors and generators, and other AC machinery, requiring special construction such as laminated magnetic cores or ferrite cores to minimize them. Eddy currents are also used to heat objects in induction heating furnaces and equipment, and to detect cracks and flaws in metal parts using eddy-current testing instruments.
The term eddy current comes from analogous currents seen in water in fluid dynamics, causing localised areas of turbulence known as eddies giving rise to persistent vortices. Somewhat analogously, eddy currents can take time to build up and can persist for very short times in conductors due to their inductance.