What use are magnets?
Maybe you think magnets are interesting; maybe you think they’re boring! What use are they, you might ask, apart from in childish magic tricks and scrapyards?
You might be surprised just how many things around you work by magnetism or electromagnetism. Every electric appliance with an electric motor in it (everything from your electric toothbrush to your lawn mower) uses magnets to turn electricity into motion. Motors use electricity to generate temporary magnetism in wire coils. The magnetic field thus produced pushes against the fixed field of a permanent magnet, spinning the inside part of the motor around at high speed. You can harness this spinning motion to drive all kinds of machines.
The magnetic properties of materials are mainly due to the magnetic moments of their atoms’ orbiting electrons. The magnetic moments of the nuclei of atoms are typically thousands of times smaller than the electrons’ magnetic moments, so they are negligible in the context of the magnetization of materials. Nuclear magnetic moments are nevertheless very important in other contexts, particularly in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). magnet rotors
Ordinarily, the enormous number of electrons in a material are arranged such that their magnetic moments (both orbital and intrinsic) cancel out. This is due, to some extent, to electrons combining into pairs with opposite intrinsic magnetic moments as a result of the Pauli exclusion principle (see electron configuration), voice coil motors vcm and combining into filled subshells with zero net orbital motion. In both cases, the electrons preferentially adopt arrangements in which the magnetic moment of each electron is cancelled by the opposite moment of another electron. Moreover, even when the electron configuration is such that there are unpaired electrons and/or non-filled subshells, it is often the case that the various electrons in the solid will contribute magnetic moments that point in different, random directions, so that the material will not be magnetic.
Sometimes, either spontaneously, or owing to an applied external magnetic field—each of the electron magnetic moments will be, on average, lined up. A suitable material can then produce a strong net magnetic field.
There are magnets in your refrigerator holding the door closed. Magnets read and write data (digital information) on your computer’s hard drive and on cassette tapes in old-fashioned personal stereos. More magnets in your hi-fi loudspeakers or headphones help to turn stored music back into sounds you can hear. If you’re sick with a serious internal illness, you might have a type of body scan called NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance), which draws the world beneath your skin using patterns of magnetic fields. Magnets are used to recycle your metal trash (steel food cans are strongly magnetic but aluminum drinks cans are not, so a magnet is an easy way to separate the two different metals).
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