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Magnetism plays an important role in our everyday lives. The phenomenon of magnetism is used in countless objects we need day in and day out. Moreover, it is crucial for the existence of the earth we live on. But how does a magnet work? We’ve looked into it and tell you everything you need to know about magnets.

The working of magnets is incredibly interesting. Not in the least because it is used in countless everyday products. The hard disc of your computer wouldn’t work without a magnet. The same is true for your sound system and headphones. You wouldn’t even be able to warm a meal in a microwave without magnetism.

What is a magnet?

The working of a magnet is very interesting. In order to start understanding how it functions, we need to determine what exactly construes a magnet. A magnet is an object able to create a magnetic field. This object will, for instance, be able to attract pieces of metal. You could think of objects made of metals like iron or nickel.

There are two kinds of magnets. These are permanent and temporary magnets. The permanent variants are magnetic in and of themselves. Temporary magnets don’t have this characteristic. Sometimes they are called electromagnets and only show magnetism after being charged electrically.

How does a magnet work?

A magnet always has two poles. These are called the north and south magnetic poles. The north pole is usually denoted with an ‘N’ and the south pole with an ‘S’. Together the north and south magnetic poles create a magnetic field. This magnetic field causes the well-known attraction and repulsion, even when the magnet and a piece of metal don’t touch each other directly.

Outside the magnet, this field always moves from the north to the south pole. However, within a magnet, it moves oppositely, i.e. from the south pole towards the north pole. Altogether, a kind of circular movement is created. These are the basic principles of magnetism. How exactly does this work in practice? The YouTube channel CrashCourse explains this in the video below.

We noticed that magnets are able to attract metal objects. This, in turn, will make these metal objects temporarily magnetic as well. These objects now also get a north and south magnetic pole. It is important to notice that a north pole always attracts a south pole and vice versa. Two north poles or two south poles will repel each other.

How do electromagnets work?

Over 200 years ago, a great discovery was made. When electricity moves through a wire made of copper or similar, this wire becomes magnetic. If the wire is wound around an iron core, a type of magnet is created. This is what we call an electromagnet.

Electromagnets and permanent magnets have several properties in common. For example, both have a north and a south pole. Yet, at the same time, the electromagnet has some unique properties. Not only in the way magnetism is created, but also in how this magnetism can be applied.

The major advantage of an electromagnet is the fact that it can be turned on and off. This can be realized by enabling and cutting off the power supply. Additionally, the direction of the magnetic field can be changed, which makes the north and south poles of the magnet flip sides. This can be done by changing the direction of the electric current.

Well-known applications of electromagnets are the bicycle dynamo, waste separators, and electromotors we find in modern cars.

How does a magnet work in magnet fishing?

In magnet fishing, permanent fishing magnets are used. The magnet you throw into the water has a north and a south pole, which create a magnetic field. However, the resistance of water requires a fishing magnet to be pretty strong to be able to attract metal objects. Strong permanent magnets are often made of neodymium, which is the case for most fishing magnets.

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