What is a magnetic field?
Magnets have magnetic fields that attract items containing iron, nickel, and steel. A magnetic field is the result of moving charges similar to an electrical current moving through a wire. An electrical current occurs when subatomic negatively-charged particles called electrons move through a wire. Motion causes a magnetic field to form around the wire.
A magnetic field either attracts or repels. Magnets have two ends that are referred to as the north and south poles. In order to attract another magnet, these poles have to be facing opposite ends. In order to cause a magnet to repel, these poles have to be facing one another.
Here are a few facts about magnets and how they function at a subatomic level:
- The north pole of the magnet points to the geomagnetic north pole.
- North poles repel north poles.
- South poles repel south poles.
- North poles attract south poles.
- South poles attract north poles.
- The force of attraction or repulsion varies according to distance between magnets.
- The strength of a magnet varies in different places on the magnet.
- Magnets are strongest at their poles.
- Magnets strongly attract steel, iron, nickel, and cobalt.
- Magnets slightly attract liquid oxygen and other materials.
- Magnets slightly repel water, carbon, and boron.
Magnets at the Subatomic Level
Atomic magnetism is the technical term that describes the act of an element's attraction to a magnet. There are a few elements in the atomic table that are attracted by magnets; however, some alloys made from various metal combinations make better magnets.
Protons and neutrons live around the nucleus of the atom where electrons are in movement. It was once believed that electrons had circular orbits, like planets orbiting around the sun, but a later discovery proved that theory false. Electrons follow an orbital path that can be determined by using a scientific process called Schroedinger’s wave equations. Electron orbitals are also determined using Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and probability theory.
According to quantum mechanics, numbers and letters are assigned to electrons that occupy shells around the nucleus of the atom. Within the shell, suborbitals may exist. These are assigned different letters and numerals. Orbitals can look like spheres, hourglasses, or like beads on a bracelet. With quantum mechanics, variables are assigned to help mark the path of the electrons, neutrons, and protons on a subatomic level.
Only two electrons can occupy a suborbital; one has an up-spin and the other has a down-spin. Two electrons with the spin UP can not occupy the same suborbital, because two electrons in a suborbital field will cancel each other out. This is called the Pauli exclusion principal.
Studies are still being conducted to discover the subatomic mysteries that cause magnets and magnetic fields to function. In everyday use, magnets serve multiple functions that render them very useful whether their intricate function is understood or not!
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