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How do magnets work?

Ferromagnetism relates to metal objects with strong magnetic properties but in fact all objects are subject to magnetic forces. In most objects, multiple tiny magnetic domains are aligned randomly with their poles pointing in opposite directions, thus cancelling each other out. However sometimes the magnetic fields align, creating strong areas of attraction or repulsion with other metal objects. The more dense the object, the stronger the magnetic field.


The etymology of the word magnet likely comes from naturally occurring lodestones (naturally occurring mineral deposits with magnetic properties) found by the ancient Greeks around the city of Magnesia. Likely thought of as witchcraft at the time, we now know that magnetism itself is due to unpaired electrons at a sub atomic level.

Skip forward a thousand years or so and somebody discovered that to make a piece of metal magnetic, all you had to do was run a magnet along it enough times.

The big problems with these kind of magnets is you can’t switch them off, great for picking up other bits of metal, not so great for getting them back again. Cue electricity – electro magnets and things are starting to get interesting.