How Does Magnetism Work?

Magnetism is the force exerted by magnets, materials that possess magnetic properties, on other objects. This force arises due to the alignment of atomic and molecular particles within a material, generating a magnetic field. When two magnets interact, their magnetic fields interact, leading to attraction or repulsion between them.

The foundation of magnetism lies in the behavior of subatomic particles, especially electrons. Electrons are negatively charged particles that orbit the nucleus of an atom. When electrons spin, they create a magnetic dipole, which can align with other magnetic fields, producing various magnetic effects.

Read: What Causes Magnetism

The Magnetic Field

At the heart of understanding magnetism is the concept of a magnetic field. A magnetic field is an invisible region around a magnet or a current-carrying conductor where the magnetic force can influence other objects. It is the interaction of magnetic fields that gives rise to the captivating behaviors of magnets.

Magnetic Domains

Magnetic materials are made up of countless tiny regions called magnetic domains. In each domain, atomic and molecular particles align their magnetic poles, creating a small magnetic field. The orientation of these domains within a material determines its overall magnetism.

Aligning Magnetic Domains: The Magnetization Process

When a magnetic material is exposed to an external magnetic field, the magnetic domains tend to align in the direction of the external field. As more and more domains align, the material becomes magnetized and gains magnetic properties.

Types of Magnetism

Magnetism manifests in various forms, each with its unique characteristics and behaviors. Let’s explore the different types of magnetism and their intriguing properties.

1. Ferromagnetism: Strong and Persistent

Ferromagnetic materials are the ones we typically associate with magnets, like iron, cobalt, and nickel. These materials have a high magnetic permeability, allowing them to retain their magnetization even after the external magnetic field is removed.

2. Paramagnetism: Attraction Under Certain Conditions

Paramagnetic materials are weakly attracted to magnetic fields and become magnetized when exposed to an external field. However, they lose their magnetism when the external field is removed.

3. Diamagnetism: Repelling Magnetic Fields

Diamagnetic materials, such as bismuth and graphite, exhibit weak repulsion to magnetic fields. Unlike ferromagnetic materials, their magnetic moments align opposite to the applied field, causing them to repel.

4. Antiferromagnetism: Canceling Magnetic Moments

Antiferromagnetic materials have neighboring magnetic moments that align in opposite directions, effectively canceling out their overall magnetization. As a result, these materials show minimal net magnetization.

Applications of Magnetism: Beyond Attraction and Repulsion

The enchanting phenomenon of magnetism has paved the way for numerous practical applications across various industries. Let’s delve into some of the most significant applications of magnetism.

1. Electric Motors and Generators: Powering the World

Electric motors and generators rely on the interaction of magnetic fields to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy and vice versa. They are the backbone of modern-day industries, powering everything from household appliances to electric vehicles.

2. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Revealing the Inner Body

MRI machines utilize powerful magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the human body’s internal structures. This non-invasive medical imaging technique has revolutionized diagnostics and medical research.

3. Magnetic Data Storage: Storing Information Securely

Hard drives and magnetic tapes utilize magnetism to store vast amounts of data reliably. Changes in magnetic orientation represent binary data, ensuring efficient and secure data storage.

4. Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) Trains: High-Speed Transportation

Maglev trains employ magnetic repulsion to levitate above the tracks, eliminating friction and allowing for incredibly fast and smooth transportation.

5. Magnetic Compass: Navigating the Seas and Skies

The magnetic compass, one of the earliest uses of magnetism, has been instrumental in navigation for centuries, guiding sailors and aviators to their destinations.

Magnets in Everyday Life: Surprising Encounters

Magnets often make their way into our daily routines without us even realizing it. Let’s explore some common encounters with magnets in our everyday lives.

1. Refrigerator Magnets: Decorating and Organizing

Refrigerator magnets add a touch of personalization to our kitchen spaces while also helping us stay organized by holding shopping lists and notes in place.

2. Credit Cards and ID Cards: Magnetic Stripes

Many credit cards and identification cards have magnetic stripes containing encoded data that can be read by card readers.

3. Magnetic Door Catches: Keeping Doors Shut

Magnetic door catches use the repulsive force of magnets to keep cabinet doors and drawers securely closed.

4. Magnetic Toys: Fun with Attraction

Magnetic building blocks and toys allow children to explore the principles of magnetism while having fun constructing various shapes and structures.

5. Magnetic Jewelry: Fashion and Healing

Magnetic bracelets and necklaces are believed by some to have healing properties and are also used as fashion accessories.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How does magnetism work in the Earth?

Magnetism in the Earth is a result of the movement of molten iron and nickel in the outer core. This movement generates electric currents, creating the Earth’s magnetic field, which extends into space and protects us from solar radiation.

Can magnets lose their magnetism?

Yes, magnets can lose their magnetism over time due to various factors, including exposure to high temperatures, strong external magnetic fields, and physical damage.

How does magnetism work in MRI machines?

In MRI machines, powerful magnets create a strong and uniform magnetic field around the patient. When exposed to radio waves, the hydrogen atoms in the body align with the magnetic field, and as they return to their original position, they emit signals that are used to create detailed images of internal structures.

Are all metals attracted to magnets?

No, not all metals are attracted to magnets. Only ferromagnetic and paramagnetic materials exhibit significant attraction to magnetic fields.

Can magnets repel sharks?

There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that magnets can repel sharks or other marine creatures.

How can I demagnetize a magnet?

To demagnetize a magnet, you can subject it to high temperatures, strike it forcefully, or expose it to

a strong, alternating magnetic field.


Magnetism is a captivating force that pervades our world, influencing the way we live, work, and explore. From the fundamental principles of magnetic fields to the exciting applications in modern technology, magnetism continues to shape our lives in ways we may not always notice.

Understanding “how does magnetism work” offers us a glimpse into the wonders of the natural world and opens up possibilities for innovative advancements. So next time you encounter a magnet, take a moment to appreciate the invisible force that holds it all together.