How do magnets work?

01.04.2015 |

Episode #3 of the course “Science questions everyone should know how to answer”

Magnets are one of the few things on Earth that exert control over other things without touching them. The science behind a magnet’s attraction over metals (iron, nickel, and cobalt, to be exact) is the same science that causes our planet to spin around its axis, giving us reliable days and nights.

Within magnets are magnetic fields, and within those fields are atoms. Within those atoms are hyperactive electrons. Another name for moving electrons? Electricity. Electricity and magnetism are connected forces in the same way that space and time are. Magnets not only attract iron, nickel, and cobalt, they also attract or repel other magnets. Magnetic fields have north and south ends; as some people say about humans, opposites attract. Put two magnets next to each other and the north end of one will stick to the south end of the other. Put north and north or south and south next to each other and they will repel. Even if you cut a magnet in half, it will create a new, smaller magnetic field with both north and south ends.

The earth itself is a giant magnet. At the very core of our planet is a giant ball of iron that emits a magnetic field. This is why compasses point north or even why the sun doesn’t kill all of us. That’s right—without the earth’s magnetic force field, the sun would have fried us all a long time ago. So not only are magnets cool to play around with, but they are also essential for our survival.


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