Magnetism

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Magnetism, phenomenon associated with magnetic fields, which arise from the motion of electric charges. This motion can take many forms. It can be an electric current in a conductor or charged particles moving through space, or it can be the motion of an electron in an atomic orbital. Magnetism is also associated with elementary particles, such as the electron, that have a property called spin.

All matter exhibits magnetic properties to some degree. When placed in an inhomogeneous field, matter is either attracted or repelled in the direction of the gradient of the field. This property is described by the magnetic susceptibility of the matter and depends on the degree of magnetization of the matter in the field. Magnetization depends on the size of the dipole moments of the atoms in a substance and the degree to which the dipole moments are aligned with respect to each other. Certain materials, such as iron, exhibit very strong magnetic properties because of the alignment of the magnetic moments of their atoms within certain small regions called domains. Under normal conditions, the various domains have fields that cancel, but they can be aligned with each other to produce extremely large magnetic fields. Various alloys, like NdFeB (an alloy of neodymium, iron, and boron), keep their domains aligned and are used to make permanent magnets. The strong magnetic field produced by a typical three-millimetre-thick magnet of this material is comparable to an electromagnet made of a copper loop carrying a current of several thousand amperes. In comparison, the current in a typical light bulb is 0.5 ampere. Since aligning the domains of a material produces a magnet, disorganizing the orderly alignment destroys the magnetic properties of the material. Thermal agitation that results from heating a magnet to a high temperature destroys its magnetic properties. Magnetic fields vary widely in strength.

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