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What Is Paramagnetism?

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  • Written By: Alex Paul
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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In physics, paramagnetism is a type of magnetism that occurs in materials with a certain atomic structure. When in a non-magnetic environment, a paramagnet displays no magnetic properties; when inside a magnetic field, it immediately becomes magnetic. This is because the electrons inside the material’s atoms are able to align in a certain direction, resulting in a magnetic field. Paramagnetism is inversely proportional to temperature, which means lower temperatures cause stronger magnetic fields.

Paramagnetism was discovered and originally researched by British scientist Michael Faraday. He realized that some materials acted like negative magnets. In other words, the materials moved in the opposite direction when placed in magnetic fields. Faraday also discovered that most elements, and some compounds, display a level of paramagnetism. Compounds that contain materials such as platinum and iron are especially likely to be strong paramagnets.

The main difference between paramagnetism and ferromagnetism is that a paramagnet doesn’t have a magnetic field on its own. A ferromagnet creates a magnetic field whether it is placed next to magnetic material or non-magnetic material. Paramagnets, on the other hand, only become magnetic when placed inside magnetic fields. This means ferromagnetic and paramagnet materials display very different properties within a magnetic field.

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All substances are made out of groups of atoms. Each atom has protons at the center, with a positive charge, and electrons orbiting around the outside in specific shells. In a paramagnet, some atoms inside the substance have unfilled inner shells. This causes each of the electrons to spin on its own axis, like a spinning top, as well as circle the center of the atom. When the substance is placed within a magnetic field, the field causes the electrons to align in a certain direction, resulting in a paramagnetic field.

Some paramagnetic materials become magnetic in all conditions, while others require a certain temperature to display magnetic properties. Sodium and platinum, for example, are weak paramagnets at all temperatures. The level of paramagnetism is governed by an equation known as Curie's Law, which states that the higher the temperature, the lower the magnetization.

Paramagnetism has been proven as scientific fact many times. It is an interesting phenomenon that’s also difficult to explain, however, so many alternative therapies and spiritual groups embrace the concept of paramagnetism. Claims made about the healing properties or spiritual applications of paramagnetic materials, however, have not been proven through scientific experiment.

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everetra
Post 3

@nony - Why is paramagnetism difficult to explain scientifically? That’s a puzzling assertion, given that a basic explanation seems to be given in the article.

Perhaps scientists don’t know what gives certain metals these properties. If they did, they might be able to discover some useful applications for them.

nony
Post 2

@NathanG - I’m not an expert but I think that what you’re describing is diamagnetic. Paramagnetic and diamagnetic operate in opposite ways from what I recall.

With paramagnetic, the magnetic fields get attracted to the metal whereas with diamagnetic the fields are repulsed, which is what you would need for your UFO hypothesis to be plausible.

I don’t know that diamagnetic metals exist; I assume that they do, but that’s what you would need.

NathanG
Post 1

I know that it sounds crazy, but maybe UFOs are paramagnetic in nature. Some have speculated that UFOs could use the Earth’s magnetic field.

However the problem with the usual explanation is that the UFO would need a really big magnet.

Well, what if it didn’t need a regular magnet, but was instead made out of such a metal that became magnetic when within the context of the Earth’s magnetic field? Then it would repel the magnetic forces of the Earth and use that force to levitate and do all the fancy maneuvers that they seem capable of performing.

I know I am going out on a limb, but it sounds plausible to me anyway.

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