Team Physics -
Created by: Team Physics -, Last Updated: July 12, 2024


Magnetism is a fundamental force caused by the motion of electric charges, resulting in attractive and repulsive forces between objects. It manifests through magnetic fields generated by electric currents and the intrinsic magnetic moments of particles. The unit of magnetic field is the Tesla (T). Electromagnetism, the study of interactions between electric currents and magnetic fields, is governed by the laws of electrodynamics such as Ampère’s Law, Faraday’s Law, and Lenz’s Law. This force is essential for phenomena like the Earth’s magnetic field and technologies like electric motors and transformers.

What Is Magnetism?

Magnetism is a physical phenomenon where moving electric charges produce magnetic fields that cause attractive and repulsive forces between objects. It is fundamental to various applications, including compasses, electric motors, and data storage devices.

Examples of Magnetism 

Examples of Magnetism 
  1. Earth’s Magnetic Field: The Earth acts like a giant magnet with a magnetic field extending from its interior into space, guiding compasses.
  2. Refrigerator Magnets: These small, strong magnets are used to hold notes and pictures on refrigerator doors.
  3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI machines use strong magnetic fields to produce detailed images of the inside of the human body.
  4. Electric Motors: Motors use magnetic fields to convert electrical energy into mechanical motion.
  5. Maglev Trains: Magnetic levitation trains use powerful magnets to float above the tracks, reducing friction and allowing high-speed travel.
  6. Credit Card Strips: The magnetic strip on the back of credit cards stores data using magnetic particles.
  7. Speakers and Microphones: These devices use magnets to convert electrical signals into sound and vice versa.
  8. Transformers: Electrical transformers use magnetism to transfer electrical energy between circuits.
  9. Junkyard Magnets: Powerful electromagnets are used in junkyards to lift and move heavy metallic objects like cars.
  10. Magnetic Toys: Many children’s toys use magnets for various functions and effects.
  11. Hard Drives: Computers use magnetism to store data on hard drives, where magnetic coatings on disks allow for data retrieval and storage.
  12. Magnetic Jewelry Clasps: Some necklaces and bracelets use magnetic clasps for easy attachment and removal.
  13. Doorbells: Electromagnetic mechanisms in doorbells create the ringing sound when the button is pressed.
  14. Electric Guitars: Magnetic pickups on electric guitars convert string vibrations into electrical signals, which are then amplified.
  15. Induction Cooktops: These stoves use magnetic fields to directly heat pots and pans, making cooking more efficient.

Types of Magnetism

1. Ferromagnetism

Ferromagnetism is the most common type of magnetism, exhibited by materials like iron, cobalt, and nickel. In ferromagnetic materials, magnetic moments of atoms align in the same direction, creating a strong, permanent magnetic field. This alignment is maintained even after the external magnetic field is removed.

2. Paramagnetism

Paramagnetism occurs in materials with unpaired electrons that align with an external magnetic field. Unlike ferromagnetism, the alignment in paramagnetic materials is weak and only exists in the presence of an external magnetic field. When the field is removed, the magnetic moments return to a random orientation.

3. Diamagnetism

Diamagnetism is a weak form of magnetism that appears in all materials. It occurs when an external magnetic field induces a small magnetic field in the opposite direction within the material. This effect is typically very weak and only noticeable in materials that do not exhibit other forms of magnetism.

4. Antiferromagnetism

Antiferromagnetism is observed in materials where adjacent atoms or ions have opposite magnetic moments, resulting in no net magnetic field. The magnetic moments cancel each other out due to an anti-parallel alignment. This type of magnetism is temperature-dependent and diminishes above a certain temperature called the Néel temperature.

5. Ferrimagnetism

Ferrimagnetism is similar to anti ferromagnetism but with unequal opposing magnetic moments, leading to a net magnetic field. This type of magnetism is found in materials like magnetite (Fe3O4) and some ceramics. Ferrimagnetic materials are commonly used in magnetic storage and electronic devices due to their high magnetic permeability.

Magnetism Functions

  1. Navigation: Magnetism is fundamental in navigation, particularly through the use of compasses. A compass needle, typically a small magnet, aligns with the Earth’s magnetic field, allowing for directional guidance.
  2. Electric Power Generation: Magnetism is essential in generating electricity. In power plants, turbines spin magnets around coils of wire, inducing an electric current. This process, known as electromagnetic induction, is the basis for generators and alternators.
  3. Data Storage: Magnetic fields are used in data storage devices such as hard drives. These devices store data by magnetizing tiny regions on a disk in different directions to represent binary data. Magnetic tapes and magnetic stripes on credit cards also utilize this principle.
  4. Medical Imaging: Magnetism is crucial in medical imaging techniques like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). MRI machines use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the body’s internal structures, aiding in medical diagnosis and treatment planning.
  5. Motors and Actuators: Electric motors and actuators rely on magnetism to convert electrical energy into mechanical motion. By passing an electric current through a coil within a magnetic field, these devices produce rotational or linear motion, powering countless applications from household appliances to industrial machinery.
  6. Communication Devices: Magnetism is vital in the functioning of various communication devices. For example, microphones and speakers use magnets to convert sound waves into electrical signals and vice versa. Electromagnetic fields are also key in wireless communication technologies.

Properties of Magnetism

Magnetism exhibits several key properties that define its behavior and effects:

  1. Magnetic Poles: Magnets have north and south poles. Opposite poles attract each other, while like poles repel.
  2. Magnetic Field: The region around a magnet where magnetic forces are exerted is called the magnetic field. Field lines emerge from the north pole and enter the south pole.
  3. Magnetic Force: Magnetic forces act at a distance, causing attraction or repulsion between magnetic objects.
  4. Electromagnetism: Moving electric charges create magnetic fields, and changing magnetic fields induce electric currents (Ampere’s Law and Faraday’s Law of Induction).
  5. Ferromagnetism: Materials like iron, cobalt, and nickel can become permanent magnets due to aligned internal magnetic domains.
  6. Magnetic Permeability: Different materials respond differently to magnetic fields. Ferromagnetic materials have high permeability, while diamagnetic and paramagnetic materials have lower permeability.
  7. Hysteresis: Ferromagnetic materials exhibit hysteresis, where magnetization depends on magnetic history, causing a lag in response to changes in magnetic field.
  8. Magnetic Flux: The amount of magnetic field passing through a given area is called magnetic flux, measured in webers (Wb) or teslas (T).
  9. Temperature Dependence: The strength of magnetism in materials changes with temperature. Above the Curie temperature, ferromagnetic materials lose their permanent magnetic properties.


What are magnetic fields?

Magnetic fields are invisible areas of influence around a magnet where magnetic forces can be detected.

What materials are typically magnetic?

Iron, nickel, cobalt, and some rare earth metals are typically magnetic because their atomic structure allows their magnetic moments to align.

What are the poles of a magnet?

Magnets have two poles: the north pole and the south pole. Opposite poles attract each other, while like poles repel.

How do magnets attract or repel each other?

Magnets attract when opposite poles (north and south) face each other and repel when like poles (north-north or south-south) face each other.

What is a magnetic domain?

A magnetic domain is a region within a material where the magnetic moments of atoms are aligned in the same direction.

What is the Earth’s magnetic field?

The Earth’s magnetic field is generated by movements within its molten iron core and protects the planet from solar wind and cosmic radiation.

What is an electromagnet?

An electromagnet is a type of magnet created by running electric current through a wire coiled around a metal core, typically iron.

How does a compass work?

A compass works by aligning its magnetic needle with the Earth’s magnetic field, pointing towards the magnetic north pole.

What is magnetic induction?

Magnetic induction is the process by which a material can become magnetized by the influence of an external magnetic field.

What is the difference between ferromagnetic and paramagnetic materials?

Ferromagnetic materials can be permanently magnetized, while paramagnetic materials are only magnetized in the presence of an external magnetic field.

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