Everything is magnetic! - physics explained

in science •  2 years ago  (edited)
Do you remember your early school days when they told you that iron was magnetic while wood and paper were not? You were told wrong. Everything is magnetic. If you had a good professor then he chose his words carefully and did not really lie to you. He just didn't tell you everything. This was for your benefit. A lot of people think that when science is taught to children we should keep it at their level. I do agree with this but also think that kids are smarter than we give them credit and capable of understanding more than we think.

I have been a physics tutor for 15 years and the thing that kids have taught me was to never underestimate them. Magnets were always a fun and interesting subject and I have had great success in explaining them to all ages. There is a great saying:

If you can't explain it simple enough,
you don't understand it well enough.

The purpose of this post is to explain magnetism to you, the adults. By helping you, I am helping your children because you will have all the knowledge required for teaching them and explaining this fun subject. There is even a great little experiment you can do with them. It will come naturally to substitute some of my more complicated words with those your child could understand. For example, you do not need to explain what electrons are but can say that they are tiny particles that everything is built from. Keep it as simple as possible and whatever you do, make it fun and interesting. Are you ready to get started and learn about magnets? Let's go!

To ancient people, magnetism was magic. Today, we understand why some materials attract others better. Imagine a coin, on one side of that coin is magnetism and on the other side is electricity. Interestingly enough, let's call that coin electromagnetism. Two different sides but one coin and there is no explaining of the one without the other. We will get to that in a minute.

Everything is made of atoms. Those atoms have electrons which are orbiting the nucleus and constantly moving. Every electron has a charge and when a charge is moving it is creating a magnetic field in its surroundings. The magnetic force is defined as a force created by electric currents which are caused by moving electrons. Magnetism is the property of space, its ability to feel the magnetic force. It is a phenomenon that is seen by observing the attraction and repulsion between magnets and magnetic materials.

Let's simplify it...

  • Everything has tiny little electrons in it. Those electrons are charged and we call their charge elementary because all the charges are made of them. Elementary charge has a value of:

  • Electricity is a current of charges. Whenever a charge moves, we call it electric current. Since electrons are charges and they do move, they are creating electricity.
  • Whenever a charge moves, it creates a magnetic field in its surroundings.

Now, let's complicate it...

Not only do electrons move around the nucleus in orbit, they also spin on their axis at the same time as they are moving. Electrons in an atom mostly exist in pairs and those pairs spin in opposite directions. The magnetic effect of one electron in that pair cancels out the effect of its partner electron. When an atom has unpaired electrons, like iron that has 4, those electrons produce magnetic fields that line up with one another so the whole atom becomes a mini magnet.

Remeber when I said that you were told wrong how not everything was magnetic? I am sure you are beginning to realize how everything, in fact, is magnetic. Since moving electrons create magnetic fields and everything is made of electrons, everything must be magnetic. Right? Yup, everything is. Some materials show greater magnetic properties and some less. Do you want to know why?

We've covered that there are unpaired electrons. When the alignment of those unpaired electrons persists without an external magnetic field or current then we have permanent magnets called ferromagnets. Ferromagnets become strongly magnetized in a magnetic field and stay magnetized even when the field is removed.

We call them “ferro” because that behavior was first observed in magnetite, Fe3O4, a natural iron ore. It is common to refer to ferromagnets as those which are magnetic like iron. However, even permanent ferromagnets can be "unmagnetized". You can do that by heating them up over their Curie temperature or by hitting them repeatedly. For example, if you heat up an iron magnet to 800°C (~1500°F), it will stop being a magnet.

Metals besides iron, that have been found to be ferromagnetic, are nickel, neodymium, cobalt, and some others. Most of today's strong permanent magnets are made of neodymium.

Some materials become temporarily magnetic when we place them in magnetic fields. Once the external field is removed, those materials go back to their usual nonmagnetic state. Most nonmetals and some metals like aluminum are paramagnetic. Their magnetism is so weak that we don't notice it in normal circumstances but there are ways to show it. One of those ways will be our little experiment that we will get to later.

In paramagnetic materials, electrons spin in such a way that atoms have permanent dipole moment. Directions of those moments are randomly oriented because of the thermal vibration. This is why the net magnetic moment is zero. When we place a paramagnetic in an external magnetic field, those tiny magnetic dipoles align in the direction of that field and become magnetized. Elements that are paramagnetic include aluminum, platinum, oxygen, lithium, sodium, calcium and many others.

Imagine the opposite from paramagnetism, that is diamagnetism. Sort of. Ferromagnetic and paramagnetic materials are "allowing" themselves to be magnetized while diamagnetic materials resist and repel magnetic fields outside themselves. This happens because those tiny magnetic dipoles align in a way opposite to the external field.

The magnetic moment in every diamagnetic atom is zero because all the dipoles are randomly oriented (just like in paramagnets) but when we put such a material in a strong external magnetic field, all those dipoles align and become repelled by the external field. When we remove the external field, everything goes back to normal.

A lot of carbon-based substances are diamagnetic and so is water. Some of the elements that are diamagnetic include gold, silver, copper, hydrogen, nitrogen, mercury, lead, silicon and many others.

The best way to remember these 3 types is to distinguish the difference between ferromagnets and the rest. Ferromagnets are permanent and the rest are not. The difference between paramagnets and diamagnets is that paramagnets are attracted to external field and diamagnets are repulsed, but both lose their magnetism once we remove the external field.

In our normal, usual lives, we can not see paramagnetism and diamagnetism at work. This is because forces involved are too weak. We can, however, make them easier to see by decreasing other forces that are in their way, friction being the biggest one. The other thing we can do is to take a small piece of material, small enough that a strong external magnetic field can influence it.

You will need:

  • small plate or glass of water
  • a drop of liquid detergent
  • large enough magnet (you can combine several smaller ones)
  • a tiny piece of paper, wood or cork

What to do:

  • fill your plate or glass with water and add a drop of liquid detergent, it will break the surface tension of the water
  • if you do not have a large and strong magnet, you can make one by putting several smaller ones on the head of a nail
  • put your small piece of material on the water (not in, but ON)
  • move your magnet closely above the material (be careful not to touch it)
  • your material should follow the magnet around or "run away" from it depending on if it is paramagnetic or diamagnetic
Here is a video of me doing this experiment. I used a small piece of pinecone which you would normally say is not magnetic. Guess what? It actually is :)

Do you see the material move?
That means it is magnetic!

After doing this simple experiment, be sure to teach or remind your child of 5 important things he or she should know about magnets.

1. Two poles

Every magnet has two poles, north and south. The opposite poles attract while the same poles repel.

2. Always two poles

If you cut a magnet in half, you will get two new magnets and each of them will again have two poles. You can do this as many times as you want and always get two poles.

3. Magnetic filed

Every magnet creates magnetism. That is the invisible field arround a magnet in which magnetic features can be seen.

4. Eart is a magnet

Our planet is made of magnetic materials and behaves like one giant magnet. It south magnetic pole is at the north geographical pole and vice versa. A compass needle is showing geographical north because it is actually attracted by the south pole that is there.

5. Everything is magnetic

Just because we can not see something does not mean it is not there. Everything is magnetic, just not in the same amount. Some materials are strongly attracted by magnets, like iron, and some not so much, like paper or fabric but that does not mean they are not magnetic at all.

I hope you found this article interesting and that it will help you in helping your child understand magnets better. Have fun learning about them together. To get additional information on magnets, check these links out:

Until next time,


All images used in this post were created from those that are under CC0 license and free for personal and commercial use.
- The first image was created from an image found on pixabay.com, you can see the original image here.
- the little magnet element used in my titles and in my cover photo is from https://pngtree.com
- every other image used is from Free Clip Art Library and if you click on an image, it will take you to the source
- the bitmoji is well... my bitmoji. Get yours at https://www.bitmoji.com/


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Hi zen-art,

Your post has been upvoted by the Curie community curation project and associated vote trail as exceptional content (human curated and reviewed). Keep creating awesome stuff! Have a great day :)

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What a lovely way to start my day... Wake up and came to see this. Thank you 💚💚💚

You are such a smart cookie! When @awakentolife was first talking about your post on magnetism.... i thought he was talking about some OTHER magnets ... hehehehe shhhhhhhhhhh ;)

lol what type of other magnets where you talking about? lol I am active now. You can't tag me anymore without me responding anymore. lolol

hahahahahahahahaha I can't tell you any other magnets - its a secret!!!!! LOL

Friends don't keep secrets from each other... Are we friends? lolol And, yes, I played the friend card? So spill it all right here. No secrets... lolol

Now I am interested too, what "other" magnets? hihihi. And thank you for calling me a smart cookie. I know it is just a saying, but still, can I be a smart chocolate? :)

We are living in an amazing world that we can not comprehend... Reality is more magic than any SF movie ;)

Oh yeah, I agree. There is so much that we could know and still so much that we yet have to learn. 💚

This is so awesome. Perhaps you could help me explain something better than I've been able to explain it before.

I know that an EEG works by monitoring the electrical pulses telling the heart to beat, not the actual muscle contractions. I also know that wherever an electrical current flows, a magnetic field is generated. What I'm having a hard to explaining is the magnetic field generated by our hearts and nervous systems within the human body, and implications of such.

I also know that the electrical current moving through the wiring of a house must also generate an magnetic field. The interactions between that electromagnetic field and that of the human bodies inside it fascinates me, and I would love to be able to understand it the way you break things down in this post.


EEG device records electrical signals from the brain (responses of neurons), not the hearth. It uses electrodes that are attached to the scalp or the cortex. EKG is electrocadiography, it works in a similar way.

Everything creates magnetic fields because everything is made of moving electrons. That means wires, technology and human bodies too. It does have an effect on us, everything does but that effect is so minor that some people do not even call it an effect. Walking barefoot immediately fixes everything that the modern technology may have done to a person, because of the free electrons in the ground. The same grounding thing is used with electricity in houses. You do not have to worry about house wiring having a negative effect on you, as long as you do not mess with the wires LOL

This is an interesting and big subject, I will write about it in the future. I hope I answered your question at least a little with this comment. Thank you for your interest and lovely thoughts 💚

Thanks so much. Yes, I meant EKG, important distinction. The only thing still puzzling me is the magnetic field being generated by the electrical wiring of a house. The electric may be grounded, so no direct threat to us, but a magnetic field is still generated that is that of this huge house, which is much larger than the "wiring" of our little bodies. Why would that not have an effect on our own electromagnetic field? The research done by Becker has shown that electromagnetic fields can regrow bone that isn't healing on its own just by being set. Why would larger em fields not cause other growth in the human body under chronic exposure?

Why would that not have an effect on our own electromagnetic field?

For starters, because those magnetic fields are not unified and in one direction. You have many wires in many directions in your house and magnetic fields are canceling each other out. To have a big effect you would need to have a strong magnetic field that is directed in a single way and electromagnetic fields that Becker is talking about are much stronger than those that wires in houses generate. I am not saying there is no effect, I am saying that it is not something you should worry about and think that it will have negative consequences on your body.

Have you seen that experiment with levitating frog? Frog levitates in a magnetic field because it is mostly made out of water but also because the magnetic field they have put it in is huge. We do not have that huge magnetic fields in our houses. A huge house does not mean a huge magnetic field because the house is not generating it, wires are, lots of wires. If the house itself would be generating a magnetic field, one strong magnetic field, than we would have a problem. You can measure the magnetic field of anything by using one of the various instruments to check how strong a magnetic field is. Check some of those instruments here: Magnetic Field Instruments Information

Thanks so much for this! Really helpful.

I feel like my geeky-minded son (and my husband) would find this fascinating... but my brain just feels like it is going to explode. Why am I reading so much science-techie stuff today?

I LOVE your quote

If you can't explain it simple enough,
you don't understand it well enough.

Because that just nails it SO well! I love it when someone can explain things in my language.

Awesome post. I wish I'd had this when I was teaching my kids years ago!

Then you should definitely give them this to read :) I am happy to hear you enjoyed this post, and yes, that is one of my favorite quotes. Much love 💚

That is absolutely brilliant! I recently read Bruce Lipton's book "The Biology of Belief", and his discussion of cell biology and quantum physics can really change the way people think about physics. And although he doesn't discuss this particular aspect of magnetism, it is relevant, because it's all about electrons being constantly in motion, and the fact that there is really no such thing as solid matter - everything is in motion, and it's just our perceptions that make things appear solid.

Physics is not a science, physics is THE science. That is all I have to say :) Thank you for your lovely comment 💚

Thanks for your excellent explanation @ zen-art , I love experiments, everything is magnetic as you say. God bless you always friend ...

I am very glad you enjoyed reading this 💚

This post was shared in the Curation Collective Discord community for curators, and upvoted and resteemed by the @c-squared community account after manual review.

Thank you so much, I really appreciate this 💚💚💚

Well, even with no science method or tools to measure all that, I can tell you from the personal experience the statement is correct.
You have an energy force everywhere.
This is not magnetism, but it is also an energy that people connect only to the metallic materials. The static electricity.
At the certain point in the past my electrolytes ended up a bit messed up so I had a bit higher static electricity than average. I didn't just 'sparkle' on the contact with the metallic objects and home appliances,but on my folks, other people, pets, wood, glass and even the marble and insulation foam. The only difference is that the forces from the metallic object are stronger and it usually hurts more by my personal experience. I hate iron stands for plastic bags in shopping malls. A person who invented those is a freaking sadist!

You should walk barefoot more often and touch stuff with your hands that is not metal. It will help. Static electricity can be annoying, especially in humid weather but it can be fixed. I know a lot of people who work in offices and are surrounded by computers and wires that have the same problem, I had it too a couple of years ago. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, have a great non-static day 💚

I was blasting off sparks to non-metallic objects, with or without shoes. The trouble stopped spontaneously after I started to take more liquids. Sometimes body chemistry changes and we can become little human batteries. My cat hated me for months ... lol Have a great day.

Congratulations! This post has been upvoted from the communal account, @minnowsupport, by zen-art 💚 from the Minnow Support Project. It's a witness project run by aggroed, ausbitbank, teamsteem, theprophet0, someguy123, neoxian, followbtcnews, and netuoso. The goal is to help Steemit grow by supporting Minnows. Please find us at the Peace, Abundance, and Liberty Network (PALnet) Discord Channel. It's a completely public and open space to all members of the Steemit community who voluntarily choose to be there.

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I love this post! It's just brilliant! And magnetism is so so so very interesting. I definitely got to dive deeper in this stuff. Thank you for sharing.

Magnetism really is an amazing subject. Thank you for your kind words 💚

Congratulations! This post has been chosen as one of the daily Whistle Stops for The STEEM Engine!

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Thank you 💚💚💚

With everything swirling around in our bodies I would think we would be human magnets...I better cut back on the "iron supplements"!

Hahahaha, unless your iron supplements are in kilograms, I think you are fine ;) Thanks for stopping by 💚

@zen-art keeping an eye out for your posts on steemiteducation too!

Thank you, that is really nice to hear 💚

What a brilliant post, and congratulations on your much deserved Curie!!

For a.minute there I thought you might dive into quantum physics when you were getting down to the electron levels.

You really know your stuff, and made it relatable. Really well done!

Thank you, I studied physics and love to promote science, make it easier to understand. Thanks for such a lovely comment 💚

Hi @zen-art ,

What a refreshing science post! All too many times science posts become too Wikipedia-like. You kept this fun and interesting while remaining accurate and educational. Great job!

This post was nominated by a @curie curator to be featured in an upcoming Author Showcase that will be posted Late Monday/Early Tuesday (U.S. time) on the @curie blog.

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Thanks for your time and for creating great content.
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Thank you, that is really nice and supportive of you to say. I will contact you 💚