A solenoid (from the French solénoïde, derived in turn from the Greek solen “pipe, channel” + combining form of Greek eidos “form, shape”) is a coil wound into a tightly packed helix. The term was invented by French physicist André-Marie Ampère to designate a helical coil.

In physics, solenoid refers specifically to a long, thin loop of wire, often wrapped around a metallic core, which produces a uniform magnetic field in a volume of space (where some experiment might be carried out) when an electric current is passed through it.

A solenoid is a type of electromagnet when the purpose is to generate a controlled magnetic field. If the meaning of the solenoid is instead to impede changes in the electric current, a solenoid can be more specifically classified as an inductor rather than an electromagnet.

Not all electromagnets and inductors are solenoids; for example, the first electromagnet, invented in 1824, had a horseshoe rather than a cylindrical solenoid shape. In engineering, the term may also refer to various transducer devices that convert energy into linear motion. The term is also often used to refer to a solenoid valve, which is an integrated device containing an electromechanical solenoid that actuates either a pneumatic or hydraulic valve, or a solenoid switch, which is a specific type of relay that internally uses an electromechanical solenoid to operate an electrical switch; for example, an automobile starter solenoid, or a linear solenoid, which is an electromechanical solenoid.

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