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A metal detector is an electronic instrument which detects the presence of metal nearby. Metal detectors are useful for finding metal inclusions hidden within objects, or metal objects buried underground. They often consist of a handheld unit with a sensor probe which can be swept over the ground or other objects. If the sensor comes near a piece of metal this is indicated by a changing tone in earphones, or a needle moving on an indicator. Usually the device gives some indication of distance; the closer the metal is, the higher the tone in the earphone or the higher the needle goes. Another common type are stationary "walk through" metal detectors used for security screening at access points in prisons, courthouses, and airports to detect concealed metal weapons on a person's body.
The simplest form of a metal detector consists of an oscillator producing an alternating current that passes through a coil producing an alternating magnetic field. If a piece of electrically conductive metal is close to the coil, eddy currents will be induced in the metal, and this produces a magnetic field of its own. If another coil is used to measure the magnetic field (acting as a magnetometer), the change in the magnetic field due to the metallic object can be detected.
The first industrial metal detectors were developed in the 1960s and were used extensively for mineral prospecting and other industrial applications. Uses include detecting land mines, the detection of weapons such as knives and guns (especially in airport security), geophysical prospecting, archaeology and treasure hunting. Metal detectors are also used to detect foreign bodies in food, and in the construction industry to detect steel reinforcing bars in concrete and pipes and wires buried in walls and floors.
Towards the end of the 19th century, many scientists and engineers used their growing knowledge of electrical theory in an attempt to devise a machine which would pinpoint metal. The use of such a device to find ore-bearing rocks would give a huge advantage to any miner who employed it. Early machines were crude, used a lot of battery power, and worked only to a very limited degree. In 1874, Parisian inventor Gustave Trouvé developed a hand-held device for locating and extracting metal objects such as bullets from human patients. Inspired by Trouvé, Alexander Graham Bell developed a similar device to attempt to locate a bullet lodged in the chest of American President James Garfield in 1881; the metal detector worked correctly but the attempt was unsuccessful because the metal coil spring bed Garfield was lying on confused the detector.
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