A magnet is a material that can exert a noticeable force on other materials without actually contacting them. This force is known as a magnetic force and may either attract or repel. While all known materials exert some sort of magnetic force, it is so small in most materials that it is not readily noticeable. With other materials, the magnetic force is much larger, and these are referred to as magnets. The Earth itself is a huge magnet.
Some magnets, known as permanent magnets, exert a force on objects without any outside influence. The iron ore magnetite, also known as lodestone, is a natural permanent magnet. Other permanent magnets can be made by subjecting certain materials to a magnetic force. When the force is removed, these materials retain their own magnetic properties. Although the magnetic properties may change over time or at elevated temperatures, these materials are generally considered to be permanently magnetized, hence the name.
Other magnets are known as electromagnets. They are made by surrounding certain materials with a coil of wire. When an electric current is passed through the coil, these materials exert a magnetic force. When the current is shut off, the magnetic force of these materials drops to nearly zero. Electromagnet materials retain little, if any, magnetic properties without a flow of electric current in the coil.
All magnets have two points where the magnetic force is greatest. These two points are known as the poles. For a rectangular or cylindrical bar magnet, these poles would be at opposite ends. One pole is called the north-seeking pole, or north pole, and the other pole is called the south-seeking, or south pole. This terminology reflects one of the earliest uses of magnetic materials such as lodestone. When suspended from a string, the north pole of these first crude compasses would always “seek” or point towards the north. This aided sailors in judging the direction to steer to reach distant lands and return home.
In our present technology, magnet applications include compasses, electric motors, microwave ovens, coin-operated vending machines, light meters for photography, automobile horns, televisions, loudspeakers, and tape recorders. A simple refrigerator note holder and a complex medical magnetic resonance imaging device both utilize magnets.
History of Magnet
Naturally occurring magnetic lodestone was studied and used by the Greeks as early as 500 B.C. Other civilizations may have known of it earlier than that. The word magnet is derived from the Greek name magnetis lithos, the stone of Magnesia, referring to the region on the Aegean coast in present-day Turkey where these magnetic stones were found.
The first use of a lodestone as a compass is generally believed to have occurred in Europe in about A.D. 1100 to A.D. 1200. The term lodestone comes from the Anglo-Saxon meaning “leading stone,” or literally, “the stone that leads.” The Icelandic word is leider-stein, and was used in writings of that period in reference to the navigation of ships.
In 1600, English scientist William Gilbert confirmed earlier observations regarding magnetic poles and concluded that the Earth was a magnet. In 1820, the Dutch scientist Hans Christian Oersted discovered the relationship between electricity and magnetism, and French physicist Andre Ampere further expanded upon this discovery in 1821.
In the early 1900s, scientists began studying magnetic materials other than those based on iron and steel. By the 1930s, researchers had produced the first powerful Alnico alloy permanent magnets. Even more powerful ferrite / ceramic magnets using rare earth elements were successfully formulated in the 1970s with further advances in this area in the 1980s.
Today, magnetic materials can be made to meet many different performance requirements depending on the final application.
Raw Materials of Magnet
When making magnets, the raw materials are often more important than the manufacturing process. The materials used in permanent magnets (sometimes known as hard materials, reflecting the early use of alloy steels for these magnets) are different than the materials used in electromagnets (some-times known as soft materials, reflecting the use of soft, malleable iron in this application).
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