MadSci Network: Earth Sciences

Re: What is a magnet made of?

Area: Earth Sciences
Posted By: Philip Plait, Astronomer/Programmer
Date: Wed Nov 20 07:47:44 1996
Message ID: 845825196.Es

Hi Candice!

Magnets that you see every day, like the kind people use on refrigerators, are usually made of iron. That's the same stuff we make buildings and cars out of!

Everything in the world that you can touch is made up of little tiny building blocks called atoms. These are tiny little things so small you cannot see them with your eye. Now it was found out a long time ago that electricity and magnetism are two ways of looking at the same thing, like heads and tails are both part of a coin. They are different, but connected. Every atom naturally has a little bit of electric charge. That means that every atom can be a magnet!

But the problem is, in most things, the atoms don't line up the right way and all the magnetic fields cancel out. It's like playing tug of war: if everybody pulled in different directions, noone would ever win! So you only get a big magnet when all the little magnets -- the atoms -- pull in the same direction. In a piece of iron, all the atoms are lined up the right way and so it can be a magnet.

It just goes to show you, teamwork gets things done!

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