All About Magnets

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What are magnets made from? How do they work?

So you want to know about magnets, huh? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Dowling is the magnet expert, so if you have a question that’s not answered below, email us and we’ll answer it! How’s that for being a smarty pants?

First things first. What is a magnet?

There are two kinds of magnets – the kind you find in nature and the kind that people make. Either way, a magnet is an object that creates a magnetic field. This means the object has to have at least one north pole (like Santa!) and one south pole (like… penguins?).

Want more detail? Read our blog post: How Do Magnets Work?

Um… okay… so what’s a magnetic field?

A magnetic field is the magnetic space around the magnet. You can measure a magnetic field by the strength of the magnetism and by the direction it’s pointed.

Huh? You want to learn more about that? Read our blog post: What is a Magnetic Field?

Magnetism? What’s that?

You know how, when you get two magnets together, they either snap together or push each other away? That’s magnetism! It’s the force of attraction (snapping together) or repulsion (pushing away) between objects made of materials like iron, nickel, cobalt, and steel.

Still have pulling questions? Read our blog post: What are Magnetic Poles and How Can You Tell Which Pole Is Which?

What are magnetic poles?

The points of a magnet that have magnetic strength are called poles. When you dangle a magnet, it automatically turns itself so that one pole is pointing directly north and the other directly south, so a magnet’s poles are labeled north and south. When you have more than one magnet, like (or same) poles repel each other and opposite poles attract each other. In other words, the north pole of one magnet will click together with the south pole of another magnet, while two north poles will push each other away.

How can you tell which pole is which?

The poles of a magnet look the same, unless of course we’ve marked them for you with “N” or “S”. An easy way to tell which is north and which is south is to set your magnet near a compass. The needle on the compass that normally points toward the north pole of the earth will move toward the magnet’s south pole. See?

Can’t quite see it yet? Read our blog post: What are Magnetic Poles and How Can You Tell Which Pole Is Which?

Whoops! I demagnetized my compass! Can I fix it?

Don’t worry! If your compass becomes de-magnetized (points in the wrong direction), just put the South Pole of a bar magnet directly on top of the compass needle and slowly slide the magnet along the red side of the needle, toward the pointed end, and then down the side of the compass. Pull the magnet away and your compass is re-magnetized!

Where is a magnet’s strongest point?

The closer to the magnet, the stronger the magnetic field and force.

Do magnets ever lose their magnetic power?

There are a few things that can weaken the magnetism in a magnet, like storing it too close to heat, strong electrical currents, other magnets, or radiation. Additionally, high humidity can corrode neodymium magnets.

Are magnets always magnetic?

Some magnets are permanent, or always, magnetic and others are non-permanent. For example, a magnet from your refrigerator will always be magnetic. A paperclip or nail is not magnetic, but both can become non-permanent magnets when touched by a strong enough fridge magnet. Get it?

What are permanent magnets made of?

Permanent magnets are made of alloys including Aluminum-Nickel-Cobalt (Alnico), Neodymium-Iron-Boron (Neodymium magnets or "super magnets" are a member of the rare earth category), Samarium-Cobalt (a member of the rare earth category) and Strontium-Iron (Ferrite or Ceramic)

What’s the difference between permanent magnets and electromagnets?

Permanent magnets emit a magnetic field without an external source of power. An electromagnet emits a magnetic field only when an electrical current runs through it.

Can magnets be made stronger?

Nope. Once a magnet is fully magnetized, its magnetic force can’t be made any stronger. You can create a stronger magnetic force by magnetizing a magnet while it’s inside a steel channel, but that usually only happens here at the magnet factory.

Which magnets are the strongest?

Rare earth magnets (Neodymium and Samarium Cobalt) are the strongest. In fact, even a neodymium magnet the size of a pencil eraser cannot be pulled off your refrigerator by hand. (If you test this theory and get into trouble, try sliding it.)

Who discovered magnets?

The first natural magnet, made of iron ore, was discovered in an ancient country in Asia Minor called Magnesia – that’s where the name magnet came from!

There is more to this story. Read all about in our blog post: Who Discovered the Very First Magnet?

What about the people-made magnets you mentioned? How can people make a magnet?

Magnets are made by exposing objects that contain nickel, iron, or cobalt to a magnetic field. When this happens, the structure of the material is actually changed on a microscopic level – the molecules of the object are polarized, or rearranged, into lines. When enough of the metal is polarized, it becomes a magnet.

What will magnets stick to?

Magnets stick to things that include one of three types of metals – nickel, iron, and cobalt.

How are magnets used, besides to stick my spelling test to the fridge?

Well, to start with, anything that has a motor uses a magnet. TVs, computers, and microwave ovens all operate with magnets. Magnets are used to keep refrigerator doors closed. They can also be mounted on trucks that clean roadways and are sometimes placed in the stomachs of cows to catch metals! They’re also used in medical devices, and in trains, roller coasters, and subways. And more uses for magnets are found every day.

And did you know…

All animals, including humans – this means YOU, have small magnetite crystals in their brains!

Scientists believe that animals may navigate or migrate by sensing the pull of the crystals towards the earth’s magnetic poles.

The earth is one big magnet!

Liquid metals deep within the earth create convection currents that create magnetic force. It is believed that the magnetic force surrounding the earth is what makes life on earth possible. Without the "magnetic force field," too much of the sun’s energy would reach us and wipe out our atmosphere. Magnets were once considered magical!

In ancient times, pieces of grey-ish black iron ore were called “lodestones” and people thought they had magical powers.

All electricity is made from magnets.

When you spin a magnet inside a coil of wire, electrons flow from the wire. All power plants use fuel to spin magnets.

Place a magnet near a computer, TV, watch, clock, video, or credit card. It may damage them!