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Name: Pat C.
Status: student
Age: 10
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2001-2002

Why do magnets attach to metal?


A magnet is a regular material with a special property. The electrons orbit the atoms in all materials. Each moving electron produces a little bit of a magnetic field. Each individual atom is a tiny magnet. In most materials, these tiny magnetic atoms are spinning in all directions. The magnetic properties of the atoms cancel out. In a magnet, many of the atoms are lined up. All the little magnetic effects help each other, making a big magnet.

In metals, some of the electrons are loose. When placed near a magnet, the loose electrons spin in line with the atoms of the magnet. This turns the metal into a magnet. Now the metal and the first magnet stick together. When you take the first magnet away, the loose electrons usually scatter in the metal again. In some metals, like iron and steel, a few electrons stay aligned. This is why many big magnets are made of iron or steel.

Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Physics Instructor
Illinois Central College

Magnetism is caused by moving charges interacting with each other. When a magnet is brought close to metal, the moving charges (electrons) in the magnet will induce a current in the metal. That induced current is in such a direction that it produces an attractive force on the currents in the magnet.

A magnet does not attract an insulator because it does not induce a current in the insulator.

Best, Dick Plano

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