motor, electric, machine that converts electrical energy into mechanical energy. When an electric current is passed through a wire loop that is in a magnetic field, the loop will rotate and the rotating motion is transmitted to a shaft, providing useful mechanical work. The traditional electric motor consists of a conducting loop that is mounted on a rotatable shaft. Current fed in by carbon blocks, called brushes, enters the loop through two slip rings. The magnetic field around the loop, supplied by an iron core field magnet, causes the loop to turn when current is flowing through it. In an alternating current (AC) motor, the current flowing in the loop is synchronized to reverse direction at the moment when the plane of the loop is perpendicular to the magnetic field and there is no magnetic force exerted on the loop. Because the momentum of the loop carries it around until the current is again supplied, continuous motion results. In alternating current induction motors the current passing through the loop does not come from an external source but is induced as the loop passes through the magnetic field. In a direct current (DC) motor, a device known as a split ring commutator switches the direction of the current each half rotation to maintain the same direction of motion of the shaft. In any motor the stationary parts constitute the stator, and the assembly carrying the loops is called the rotor, or armature. As it is easy to control the speed of direct-current motors by varying the field or armature voltage, these are used where speed control is necessary. The speed of AC induction motors is set roughly by the motor construction and the frequency of the current; a mechanical transmission must therefore be used to change speed. In addition, each different design fits only one application. However, AC induction motors are cheaper and simpler than DC motors. To obtain greater flexibility, the rotor circuit can be connected to various external control circuits. Most home appliances with small motors have a universal motor that runs on either DC or AC. Where the expense is warranted, the speed of AC motors is controlled by employing special equipment that varies the power-line frequency, which in the United States is 60 hertz (Hz), or 60 cycles per second. Brushless DC motors are constructed in a reverse fashion from the traditional form. The rotor contains a permanent magnet and the stator has the conducting coil of wire. By the elimination of brushes, these motors offer reduced maintainance, no spark hazard, and better speed control. They are widely used in computer disk drives, tape recorders, CD drives, and other electronic devices. Synchronous motors turn at a speed exactly proportional to the frequency. The very largest motors are synchronous motors with DC passing through the rotor.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.