Magnetism For Kids: How Do Magnets Work?

In this article we will understand what is magnetism, what is magnetic field,  how do magnets work, what is compass, how the earth is a huge magnet etc. Let’s start learning.

how do magnets work

What is Magnetism?

Magnetism is a force that can attract some objects without even touching them.

What is Magnets: Magnets are objects, which have a special power to attract other objects such as iron, steel, cobalt and nickel.

What happens if you rub a piece of iron with a magnet? The magnet pulls that piece of iron towards itself. But if you repeat this same process with other metals like Gold or Copper it repels instead of attracts.

➤ Magnets have two main forces – push and pull.
Magnets can also attract each other, but only if they face in opposite directions. There are two ends in a magnet called pole; one end is known as the NORTH POLE and another one is the SOUTH POLE.
how do magnets work

Opposite Side:
North Pole > attract > South Pole (the magnets pull on each other)

Same Side:
North Pole > repel> North Pole ( the magnets push each other away)

What is a Magnetic Field?

Every magnet is surrounded by the invisible field in which objects are pulled. This field is called the magnetic Field. Even the Earth has a magnetic field. It is like a giant bar magnet. Even if you cut a huge bar magnet into tiny pieces, each piece is still a magnet with its own small magnetic field.

How do Magnets Work?

Everything in the universe is made up of ATOMS. And each atom is made up of particles called Protons, Neutrons and Electrons. Each atom has a nucleus at its center and electrons orbit the nucleus.

how do magnets work

This process of the movement of electrons creates magnetism. Magnetism occurs when the electrons spin in the same direction.

We can say that each atom is like a tiny magnet with its own north poles and south poles. This means that everything in this universe has magnetic force. When the magnetic forces from the electrons add up, they form to make one big magnet.

Some things such as wood, paper or clothes are less magnetic because their atom’s magnetic fields stay separate from each other.

But in the magnetic material such as iron, atoms group together in domains.

What is Domain:

The atoms align themselves in groups called crystals. And a collection of magnetic crystals is called domains. It contains atoms all lined up in the same direction which makes the object strongly magnetic.

Also Read: Types of Energy / Force

how do magnets work

Ferromagnetic Material – Materials that are attracted to magnets. I.e iron, steel, nickel, cobalt.
Non-ferromagnetic materials – materials that are not attracted to magnets. E.g. Gold, paper,

When a ferromagnetic material (eg. paper clip) comes in contact with the magnet, the domains present in paper clip line up with the domains of the magnet. This way the magnet attracts the paper clip (ferromagnetic material) by using its magnetic force.

After removing the magnet, the domains in the paper clip no longer aligned, so the paper clip loses its power.

But, Non-ferromagnetic materials do not rearrange into alignment with the magnetic domains and stay in a random formation. Hope you understand “how do magnets work”.

Did you know that Planet Earth is a Big Magnet?

how do magnets work
‘Earth is a big magnet’ first proposed by a British physician named William Gilbert in 1600. Our planet actually is a giant magnet with north and south magnetic poles. The magnetic field of the Earth is called the magnetosphere. This is because the core of the Earth contains iron and nickel, one of the best materials for making magnets. Scientists believe that part of the Earth’s core is continuously spinning very fast, which creates a magnetic field.
➤ Approximately every 200,000 to 5 million years, Earth’s magnetic field switches positions. The north pole becomes the south pole, and the south pole becomes the north pole.

What is a Compass?

how do magnets work

A compass is a tool which is used to find the direction of a magnetic field. It has a small needle that responds to the Earth’s magnetic field by always pointing north.

Compasses are mainly used in navigation to find direction on the earth. Many animals have natural “compasses” that work just as well. Animals which can do this include pigeons, bees, Monarch butterflies, sea turtles and certain fish. 

Birds like the garden warbler use Earth’s magnetic field to guide their annual migrations.

According to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, “garden warblers, and potentially other night-migratory bird species, can extract magnetic compass information from both eyes; and from either single eye if they are forced to do so.”

Can You Store a Magnet?

Yes, we can store a magnet. Since magnets get weaker with time but we can store by keeping them in pairs with the unlike poles next to each other and placing keepers, or pieces of soft iron, across the ends.

This soft iron piece become temporary magnets themshelves and keep the magnetic force stronger.

Magnet Vocabulary

  • Align – to arrange in a line, facing the same direction
  • Atom – the smallest unit of matter
  • Attract – pull toward, stick to
  • Electrons – negatively charged particles that surround the nucleus of an atom
  • Navigate – to find the correct direction, to steer, manage, or guide the course.
  • Poles – The opposite parts of a magnet that have greatest magnetic strength
  • Ferromagnetic – group of metals that are easily magnetized: iron, nickel, cobalt
  • Magnetosphere
    the area of space around a planet that is controlled by the planet’s magnetic field.
  • Repel – push away
  • Magnet – Magnets are objects, which have a special power to attract other objects such as iron, steel, cobalt and nickel.
  • Compasses – devices with magnetic needles that always point north
  • Magnet Keeper – A magnet keeper is a bar made from soft iron or steel, which is placed across the poles of a permanent magnet to help preserve the strength of the magnet.
  • Magnetic Force – the repelling or attracting force between a magnet and a ferromagnetic material, between a magnet and a current-carrying conductor, etc.
  • Domains – tiny groups of atoms in which all the electrons have the same magnetic orientation
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