Magnetism and Metals
Name: Pat C.
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
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
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
A magnet does not attract an insulator because it does not induce a
current in the insulator.
Best, Dick Plano
Click here to return to the Physics Archives
Update: June 2012