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    Magnet Experiments

    Magnet Background Information


    A magnet is a material or object that produces a magnetic field.

    Magnetic fields surround magnetic materials and electric currents and are detected by the force they exert on other magnetic materials and moving electric charges.


    See also Magnetic Field

    A magnet is a very special metal. When a magnet goes near some other metals or other magnets, and the poles (sides) touching are opposite, it will pull, or attract the other metal or magnet closer. Also, if the two poles are the same, the two magnets will push away, or repel, from each other. This is called magnetism. Magnets can make some other metals into magnets when they are rubbed together. A "soft" or "impermanent" magnet is one which loses its memory of previous magnetizations. "Soft" magnetic materials are often used in electromagnets to enhance (often hundreds or thousands of times) the magnetic field of a wire that carries an electrical current and is wrapped around the magnet; the field of the "soft" magnet increases with the current. Permanent magnets occur naturally in some rocks, particularly lodestone, but are now more commonly manufactured. A magnet's magnetism decreases when it is heated and increases when it is cooled. It has to be heated at around 1000 degrees Celsius. There are only four magnetic metals - they are iron, nickel, steel and cobalt.

    A compass uses the Earth's magnetic field, and will always point to the North Pole. A north side of the magnet is attracted to the south side of another magnet. However, the north side of the compass points to the north pole, this can only mean that the "north pole" is really the magnetic south, and the "south pole" is really the magnetic north.

    Topics of Interest

    A magnet (from Greek: magnetis lithos, Magnesian stone) is a material or object that produces a magnetic field. This magnetic field is invisible but is responsible for the most notable property of a magnet: a force that pulls on other ferromagnetic materials like iron and attracts or repels other magnets.

    A permanent magnet is an object made from a material that is magnetized and creates its own persistent magnetic field. An everyday example is a refrigerator magnet used to hold notes on a refrigerator door. Materials that can be magnetized, which are also the ones that are strongly attracted to a magnet, are called ferromagnetic (or ferrimagnetic). These include iron, nickel, cobalt, some rare earth metals and some of their alloys (e.g., Alnico), and some naturally occurring minerals such as lodestone. Although ferromagnetic (and ferrimagnetic) materials are the only ones attracted to a magnet strongly enough to be commonly considered magnetic, all other substances respond weakly to a magnetic field, by one of several other types of magnetism.

    Some ferromagnetic materials can be magnetised by a magnetic field but do not tend to remain magnetised when the field is removed; these are termed soft. Permanent magnets are made from magnetically hard ferromagnetic materials that stay magnetized.

    An electromagnet is made from a coil of wire which acts as a magnet when an electric current passes through it, but stops being a magnet when the current stops. Often an electromagnet is wrapped around a core of ferromagnetic material like steel, which enhances the magnetic field produced by the coil.

    The overall strength of a magnet is measured by its magnetic moment, while the local strength of the magnetism in a material is measured by its magnetization.

    History: The earliest known surviving descriptions of magnets and their properties are from Greece, India, and China, around 2500 years ago. By the 12th to 13th centuries AD, magnetic compasses were used in navigation in China, Europe, and elsewhere.

    Two models for magnets: magnetic poles and atomic currents

    Although for many purposes it is convenient to think of a magnet as having distinct north and south magnetic poles, the concept of poles should not be taken literally: it is merely a way of referring to the two different ends of a magnet. The magnet does not have distinct north or south particles on opposing sides. If a bar magnet is broken in half, in an attempt to separate the north and south poles, the result will be two bar magnets, each of which has both a north and south pole.

    Gilbert model: However, a version of the magnetic pole approach is used by professional magneticians to design permanent magnets. In this approach, the pole surfaces of a permanent magnet are imagined to be covered with so-called magnetic charge, north pole particles on the north pole and south pole particles' on the south pole, that are the source of the magnetic field lines. If the magnetic pole distribution is known, then outside the magnet the pole model gives the magnetic field exactly. In the interior of the magnet this model fails to give the correct field. This pole model is also called the Gilbert model of a magnetic dipole. Griffiths suggests: "My advice is to use the Gilbert model, if you like, to get an intuitive 'feel' for a problem, but never rely on it for quantitative results."

    Ampère model: Another model is the Ampère model, where all magnetization is due to the effect of microscopic, or atomic, circular bound currents, also called Ampèrian currents throughout the material. For a uniformly magnetized cylindrical bar magnet, the net effect of the microscopic bound currents is to make the magnet behave as if there is a macroscopic sheet of electric current flowing around the surface, with local flow direction normal to the cylinder axis. (Since scraping off the outer layer of a magnet will not destroy its magnetic field, it can be seen that this is just a model, and the tiny currents are actually distributed throughout the material). The right-hand rule tells which direction the current flows. The Ampère model gives the exact magnetic field both inside and outside the magnet. It is usually difficult to calculate the Ampèrian currents on the surface of a magnet, whereas it is often easier to find the effective poles for the same magnet.

    Magnetic materials

    The term magnet is typically reserved for objects that produce their own persistent magnetic field even in the absence of an applied magnetic field. Only certain classes of materials can do this. Most materials, however, produce a magnetic field in response to an applied magnetic field; a phenomenon known as magnetism. There are several types of magnetism, and all materials exhibit at least one of them.

    The overall magnetic behavior of a material can vary widely, depending on the structure of the material, and particularly on its electron configuration. Several forms of magnetic behavior have been observed in different materials, including:

    • Ferromagnetic and ferrimagnetic materials are the ones normally thought of as magnetic; they are attracted to a magnet strongly enough that the attraction can be felt. These materials are the only ones that can retain magnetization and become magnets; a common example is a traditional refrigerator magnet. Ferrimagnetic materials, which include ferrites and the oldest magnetic materials magnetite and lodestone, are similar to but weaker than ferromagnetics. The difference between ferro- and ferrimagnetic materials is related to their microscopic structure, as explained below.
    • Paramagnetic substances such as platinum, aluminium, and oxygen are weakly attracted to a magnet. This effect is hundreds of thousands of times weaker than ferromagnetic materials attraction, so it can only be detected by using sensitive instruments, or using extremely strong magnets. Magnetic ferrofluids, although they are made of tiny ferromagnetic particles suspended in liquid, are sometimes considered paramagnetic since they cannot be magnetized.
    • Diamagnetic means repelled by both poles. Compared to paramagnetic and ferromagnetic substances, diamagnetic substances such as carbon, copper, water, and plastic are even more weakly repelled by a magnet. The permeability of diamagnetic materials is less than the permeability of a vacuum. All substances not possessing one of the other types of magnetism are diamagnetic; this includes most substances. Although force on a diamagnetic object from an ordinary magnet is far too weak to be felt, using extremely strong superconducting magnets diamagnetic objects such as pieces of lead and even mice can be levitated so they float in mid-air. Superconductors repel magnetic fields from their interior and are strongly diamagnetic.
    • There are various other types of magnetism, such as spin glass, superparamagnetism, superdiamagnetism, and metamagnetism.

    Common uses of magnets

    • Magnetic recording media: VHS tapes contain a reel of magnetic tape. The information that makes up the video and sound is encoded on the magnetic coating on the tape. Common audio cassettes also rely on magnetic tape. Similarly, in computers, floppy disks and hard disks record data on a thin magnetic coating.
    • Credit, debit, and ATM cards: All of these cards have a magnetic strip on one side. This strip encodes the information to contact an individual's financial institution and connect with their account(s).
    • Common televisions and computer monitors: TV and computer screens containing a cathode ray tube employ an electromagnet to guide electrons to the screen. Plasma screens and LCDs use different technologies.
    • Speakers and microphones: Most speakers employ a permanent magnet and a current-carrying coil to convert electric energy (the signal) into mechanical energy (movement which creates the sound). The coil is wrapped around a bobbin attached to the speaker cone, and carries the signal as changing current which interacts with the field of the permanent magnet. The voice coil feels a magnetic force and in response moves the cone and pressurizes the neighboring air, thus generating sound. Dynamic microphones employ the same concept, but in reverse. A microphone has a diaphragm or membrane attached to a coil of wire. The coil rests inside a specially shaped magnet. When sound vibrates the membrane, the coil is vibrated as well. As the coil moves through the magnetic field, a voltage is induced across the coil. This voltage drives a current in the wire that is characteristic of the original sound.
    • Electric motors and generators: Some electric motors (much like loudspeakers) rely upon a combination of an electromagnet and a permanent magnet, and much like loudspeakers, they convert electric energy into mechanical energy. A generator is the reverse: it converts mechanical energy into electric energy by moving a conductor through a magnetic field.
    • Medicine: Hospitals use Magnetic Resonance Imaging to spot problems in a patients organs without invasive surgery.
    • Transformers: Transformers are devices that transfer electric energy between two windings of wire that are electrically isolated but are coupled magnetically.
    • Chucks: Chucks are used in the metalworking field to hold objects. Magnets are also used in other types of fastening devices, such as the magnetic base, the magnetic clamp and the refrigerator magnet.
    • Compasses: A compass (or mariner's compass) is a magnetized pointer free to align itself with a magnetic field, most commonly Earth's magnetic field.
    • Art: Vinyl magnet sheets may be attached to paintings, photographs, and other ornamental articles, allowing them to be attached to refrigerators and other metal surfaces.
    • Science Projects: Many topic questions are based on magnets. For example: how is the strength of a magnet affected by glass, plastic, and cardboard?
    • Toys: Given their ability to counteract the force of gravity at close range, magnets are often employed in children's toys such as the Magnet Space Wheel and Levitron to amusing effect.
    • Magnets can be used to make jewellery. Necklaces and bracelets can have a magnetic clasp, or may be constructed entirely from a linked series of magnets and ferrous beads.
    • Magnets can pick up magnetic items (iron nails, staples, tacks, paper clips) that are either too small, too hard to reach, or too thin for fingers to hold. Some screwdrivers are magnetized for this purpose.
    • Magnets can be used in scrap and salvage operations to separate magnetic metals (iron, steel, and nickel) from non-magnetic metals (aluminium, non-ferrous alloys, etc.). The same idea can be used in the so-called magnet test, in which an auto body is inspected with a magnet to detect areas repaired using fiberglass or plastic putty.
    • Magnetic levitation transport, or maglev, is a form of transportation that suspends, guides and propels vehicles (especially trains) through electromagnetic force. The maximum recorded speed of a maglev train is 581 kilometers per hour (361 mph).
    • Magnets may be used to serve as a fail-safe device for some cable connections. For example, the power cords of some laptops are magnetic to prevent accidental damage to the port when tripped over.

    Medical issues and safety

    Because human tissues have a very low level of susceptibility to static magnetic fields, there is little mainstream scientific evidence showing a health hazard associated with exposure to static fields. Dynamic magnetic fields may be a different issue however; correlations between electromagnetic radiation and cancer rates have been postulated due to demographic correlations.

    If a ferromagnetic foreign body is present in human tissue, an external magnetic field interacting with it can pose a serious safety risk.

    A different type of indirect magnetic health risk exists involving pacemakers. If a pacemaker has been embedded in a patient's chest (usually for the purpose of monitoring and regulating the heart for steady electrically induced beats), care should be taken to keep it away from magnetic fields. It is for this reason that a patient with the device installed cannot be tested with the use of an MRI, which is a magnetic imaging device.

    Children sometimes swallow small magnets from toys; and this can be hazardous if two or more magnets are swallowed, as the magnets can pinch or puncture internal tissues; one death has been reported.


    An electromagnet in its simplest form, is a wire that has been coiled into one or more loops, known as a solenoid. When electric current flows through the wire, a magnetic field is generated. It is concentrated near (and especially inside) the coil, and its field lines are very similar to those for a magnet. The orientation of this effective magnet is determined by the right hand rule. The magnetic moment and the magnetic field of the electromagnet are proportional to the number of loops of wire, to the cross-section of each loop, and to the current passing through the wire.

    If the coil of wire is wrapped around a material with no special magnetic properties (e.g., cardboard), it will tend to generate a very weak field. However, if it is wrapped around a soft ferromagnetic material, such as an iron nail, then the net field produced can result in a several hundred- to thousandfold increase of field strength.

    Uses for electromagnets include particle accelerators, electric motors, junkyard cranes, and magnetic resonance imaging machines. Some applications involve configurations more than a simple magnetic dipole, for example quadrupole and sextupole magnets are used to focus particle beams.

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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