What is a Magnet?
The word “magnet” comes to us from the ancient Greeks, who were aware of the basic properties of magnetic stones as far back as about 600 B.C. Legend attributes the name to Magnes, a shepherd whose metal staff struck the first such stone, but in truth, it probably came from a city in Asia Minor famous for magnetic minerals. A magnet is any object that generates a magnetic field. Each magnet has a north pole and a south pole of its own, just like Earth. Magnets attract iron and other ferrous metals. They can be used for compasses because if it is put in an appropriate setting and allowed to move freely, a lightweight magnet will point toward the North Pole.
- Magnetic Accessories: Large selection and examples of magnets and accessories that are compatible with magnetic whiteboards.
- Magnetism Basics: This basic explanation details how a magnet interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field.
- Electricity and Magnetism for Kids: Different types of magnets are explained at an elementary level.
- What is a Magnet?: The University at Illinois gives a detailed yet accessible answer to exactly what makes something a magnet.
- What Does a Magnet Do?: The University of Leicester offers a detailed index of magnet-related topics and questions.
What is Magnetic Force?
Magnetic force is the level of repulsion or attraction generated between electrically charged particles on account of their movement. Magnetic fields are produced by electric currents that are in motion; these fields can be created by something as small as a single moving atom or can be generated by currents running through wires. The interaction of magnetic forces between two magnets is very complex, but it’s easy to notice that the “like” poles of two magnets will always repel each other, while the unlike poles – the north and south poles – will exert attraction. In permanent magnets, most electrons spin in the same direction, creating a magnetic field. This exerts a magnetic force of attraction on the loose, unpaired electrons in other materials.
- Magnetic Field: This illustrated guide explains the basic physical laws that define a magnetic field.
- Magnetic Field and Magnetic Force Explained: San Jose State University has a guide to key concepts about magnetic forces.
- Magnetic Forces and Fields (PDF): A document from the University at Buffalo contains a detailed discussion of magnets and magnetic fields.
What Are Common Uses for Magnets?
There are a wide range of different uses for magnets. One of the most familiar uses around the office is the helpful magnet board. The board exerts a force of attraction that allows items to stick to it. Likewise, magnets are very popular in advertising and marketing. There are many pieces of technology that use magnets in extremely sophisticated ways, including refrigerators, electrical motors, generators, speakers, and maglev trains. Small magnets are used in modern television screens and computer monitors. Of course, you’ll also still find them in compasses!
- Using Magnets in the Home Workshop: This Old House has a list of ten “handy” uses for magnets around the home.
- Neodymium Magnets: These super-powerful magnets are used in many electronic devices and for other purposes as well.
- A Cool New Way to Use Magnets (PDF): The Ames Laboratory describes the use of magnets for refrigeration.
Magnetic Science Projects and Experiments
One of the most interesting things about magnets is the fact that you can see them in action in day-to-day life. There are many simple yet exciting experiments that demonstrate the properties of magnets and the ferrous metals attracted to them. Many of these enlightening experiments are so easy that you don’t need any advanced training or equipment to try them. Simply decide to get started exploring the wonderful world of magnets and you’ll soon find projects appropriate for young children, high school students, and even those entering college. The details of magnetic forces may be extremely complex, but witnessing a magnet at work is simple and intuitive.
- Magnetism Through Materials: A list of activities shows how magnetic waves can act through different materials, like wood or plastic.
- How to Create an Electromagnet: This page shows how you can turn a nail into a magnet using batteries.
- Understanding Magnetism (PDF): The Virginia Department of Education provides this lesson plan for learning about magnets and magnetism.
- Faraday’s Magnetic Field Experiment Online: Explore this critical magnetism discovery using an online simulation.
- Joseph Henry’s Magnet Paper Experiment (PDF): A Princeton paper details a key magnetism experiment.
- Make Your Own Electromagnet (PDF): Simple instructions go through how to make a home electromagnet.
- Demonstrating Electric Currents and Fields: An activity shows how to create an induced magnetic field.
- Measuring Magnetism for Teachers (PDF): A lesson plan and worksheets can guide a class through learning about magnets.
- The Experiments of Andre Marie Ampere: This explanation details a milestone in magnetic science.
- Complete Experiment List: An MIT course on magnetism provides a list of experiments.
- Magnetism and Electricity Lab (PDF): Instructions for Physics 101 experiments in magnetism are provided by the University of Oregon.
- Teacher Activities With Magnets: Ten short experiments can help elementary-aged students learn about magnetism.
- Fun With Magnets: A lecturer at the University of Utah experiments on common things you wouldn’t think would be magnetic.