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# How do Magnets Work?

The Earth has a natural magnetic field that allows compasses to operate.
A horseshoe magnet with north and south poles labeled.
Refrigerator magnets may be used to hold papers against a kitchen appliance.
Bar magnet with iron filings to illustrate the magnetic field.
Many roller coasters employ the use of magnets.
An electromagnet.
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2003-2015
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Magnets have magnetic fields that attract items containing iron. For example, some of the substances attracted to magnets include iron, nickel, and steel. Magnets are used for a variety of purposes, ranging from attaching items to refrigerator doors and creating compasses to providing for fast roller coaster rides and converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. They are even used in some toys.

Understanding how magnets work means figuring out the dynamics of a magnetic field. Consider the space that surrounds a magnet. This space is occupied by a magnetic force and is called a magnetic field. If a magnet is placed within this field, it will be acted upon by magnetic forces.

A magnetic field is created as the result of moving charges. A good example of this is electric current that flows through a wire. When this occurs, there are negatively charged, subatomic particles, called electrons, moving through the wire. As these charges move, a magnetic field forms around the wire. Likewise, the magnetic field of a magnet is created by the movement of electrons.

A magnet’s magnetic field either attracts or repels certain metals, as well as other magnets. A magnet has two ends that are referred to as poles. One pole is called north and the other one is referred to as south. To attract magnets to each other, you have to place opposite ends of two magnets near each other. Placing like ends of two magnets near each other causes the opposite to occur; the two magnets repel each other.

Interestingly, the Earth has a natural, magnetic field at is core. If you take a look at a compass, you will notice that one side is marked “N” and faces toward the Earth’s northern magnetic pole. As such, this part of the compass is referred to as the North-seeking pole. However, the Earth’s north magnetic pole should not be confused with its North Pole. The North Pole is located hundreds of miles away from the north-seeking pole.

Though most people are familiar with simple, refrigerator magnets, there are many other types of magnets. They are categorized as permanent, temporary, and electromagnetic. Permanent magnets maintain their magnetic properties for an extended period of time while temporary magnets lose their magnetism more quickly. An electromagnet, on the other hand, is one that is created using electricity. Its strength can be altered based on the electrical current that is allowed to move through it.