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What is a magnet made of?

Date: Sun Oct 20 10:26:36 1996
Posted by: Candice DeGeus
Grade level: K-3
School/Organization: Ben Hulse
City: Imperial State/Province: California
Country: U.S.A.
Area of science: Earth Sciences


What is a magnet made of?

Hi Candice!

Magnets that you see every day, like the kind people use on refrigerators, are usually made of iron. That's the same stuff we make buildings and cars out of!

Everything in the world that you can touch is made up of little tiny building blocks called atoms. These are tiny little things so small you cannot see them with your eye. Now it was found out a long time ago that electricity and magnetism are two ways of looking at the same thing, like heads and tails are both part of a coin. They are different, but connected. Every atom naturally has a little bit of electric charge. That means that every atom can be a magnet!

But the problem is, in most things, the atoms don't line up the right way and all the magnetic fields cancel out. It's like playing tug of war: if everybody pulled in different directions, no one would ever win! So you only get a big magnet when all the little magnets -- the atoms -- pull in the same direction. In a piece of iron, all the atoms are lined up the right way and so it can be a magnet.

It just goes to show you, teamwork gets things done!

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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