Magnetic Substances: Types & Examples

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  • 0:03 Background on Magnets
  • 1:18 Ferromagnetic Substances
  • 2:42 Paramagnetic Substances
  • 3:31 Diamagnetic Substances
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Everyone has played with magnets, but not everyone understands how they work. This lesson will explain how magnets work and will take a closer look at how three different types of substances--ferromagnetic, paramagnetic, and diamagnetic--react to magnetic fields.

Background on Magnets

Magnets probably play a bigger role in your life than you think. Sure, you see magnets on your refrigerator, but did you know that the speakers in your TV, your car's automatic door locks, and your washing machine contain magnets? In fact, even the earth is a magnet! Of course, you probably have a general idea of what a magnet is, but have you actually thought about how a magnet works, or why some materials are magnetic and others are not? If not, don't worry, you've come to the right place!

A good start would be to define some words associated with magnets.

  • Magnetism is the result of attraction, when two objects come together, or repulsion, when two objects move apart.
  • A magnet is an object that has properties of magnetism. For example, a magnet might attract another object.
  • A magnetic field is the invisible area around a magnet where magnetism occurs.
  • And magnetized means that an object acquired magnetic properties.

Now, some substances can be super magnetic and others can be partially magnetic. Let's take a look at three different types of substances: ferromagnetic, paramagnetic, and diamagnetic.

Ferromagnetic Substances

Let's start with ferromagnetic substances. Ferromagnetic substances get their name because the word for iron in Latin is 'ferrum' and iron is one of the ferromagnetic substances. Other substances that fall into this group include cobalt, nickel, and gadolinium.

So, what makes something 'ferromagnetic?'

Everything around you, from your dog to your TV, is made up of atoms. In the center, or nucleus, of the atom are protons and neutrons, while electrons are spinning around outside of the nucleus.

The electrons are outside of the nucleus

You can think of electrons as tiny spinning magnets. Normally, one electron spins one way and another spins the other way, canceling each other out so the atom doesn't have any magnetic properties. But in a ferromagnetic substance, the electrons will orient themselves to spin the same way when they are exposed to a magnetic field, thus magnetizing the ferromagnetic substance.

Check out the imagine below:

The electron orientation is represented by arrows. The electrons all orient in the same way after the material is exposed to a magnetic field

You'll see that the electron orientation is represented by arrows. The electrons all orient in the same way after the material is exposed to a magnetic field. Picture some iron that gets placed next to a bar magnet. The magnetic field in the bar magnet causes the electrons in the iron to orient themselves the same way and thus, makes the iron magnetic!

And what's even cooler is that ferromagnetic substances, like that chunk of iron, will remain magnetized even after that bar magnet is long gone.

Paramagnetic Substances

Paramagnetic substances are still pretty neat, even if they don't stay magnetized like the ferromagnetic substances. They are only magnetized briefly when exposed to a magnetic substance. Some examples of paramagnetic substances include aluminum, platinum, titanium, and tin.

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