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  • Define ferromagnet.
  • Describe the role of magnetic domains in magnetization.
  • Explain the significance of the Curie temperature.
  • Describe the relationship between electricity and magnetism.


Only certain materials, such as iron, cobalt, nickel, and gadolinium, exhibit strong magnetic effects. Such materials are called ferromagnetic    , after the Latin word for iron, ferrum . A group of materials made from the alloys of the rare earth elements are also used as strong and permanent magnets; a popular one is neodymium. Other materials exhibit weak magnetic effects, which are detectable only with sensitive instruments. Not only do ferromagnetic materials respond strongly to magnets (the way iron is attracted to magnets), they can also be magnetized    themselves—that is, they can be induced to be magnetic or made into permanent magnets.

An unmagnetized piece of iron is turned into a permanent magnet using heat and another magnet.
An unmagnetized piece of iron is placed between two magnets, heated, and then cooled, or simply tapped when cold. The iron becomes a permanent magnet with the poles aligned as shown: its south pole is adjacent to the north pole of the original magnet, and its north pole is adjacent to the south pole of the original magnet. Note that there are attractive forces between the magnets.

When a magnet is brought near a previously unmagnetized ferromagnetic material, it causes local magnetization of the material with unlike poles closest, as in [link] . (This results in the attraction of the previously unmagnetized material to the magnet.) What happens on a microscopic scale is illustrated in [link] . The regions within the material called domains    act like small bar magnets. Within domains, the poles of individual atoms are aligned. Each atom acts like a tiny bar magnet. Domains are small and randomly oriented in an unmagnetized ferromagnetic object. In response to an external magnetic field, the domains may grow to millimeter size, aligning themselves as shown in [link] (b). This induced magnetization can be made permanent if the material is heated and then cooled, or simply tapped in the presence of other magnets.

Three schematic diagrams of a piece of iron showing magnetic domains. In Figure a, there are many domains (tiny magnetic regions, each with a north pole and a south pole). Each domain has a slightly different orientation. In Figure b, the domains are larger. Most of the domains are oriented in roughly the same direction. In Figure c, there is a single domain for the entire piece of iron. There is a north pole and a south pole.
(a) An unmagnetized piece of iron (or other ferromagnetic material) has randomly oriented domains. (b) When magnetized by an external field, the domains show greater alignment, and some grow at the expense of others. Individual atoms are aligned within domains; each atom acts like a tiny bar magnet.

Conversely, a permanent magnet can be demagnetized by hard blows or by heating it in the absence of another magnet. Increased thermal motion at higher temperature can disrupt and randomize the orientation and the size of the domains. There is a well-defined temperature for ferromagnetic materials, which is called the Curie temperature    , above which they cannot be magnetized. The Curie temperature for iron is 1043 K ( 770ºC ) size 12{ \( "770"°C \) } {} , which is well above room temperature. There are several elements and alloys that have Curie temperatures much lower than room temperature and are ferromagnetic only below those temperatures.


Early in the 19th century, it was discovered that electrical currents cause magnetic effects. The first significant observation was by the Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted (1777–1851), who found that a compass needle was deflected by a current-carrying wire. This was the first significant evidence that the movement of charges had any connection with magnets. Electromagnetism is the use of electric current to make magnets. These temporarily induced magnets are called electromagnets . Electromagnets are employed for everything from a wrecking yard crane that lifts scrapped cars to controlling the beam of a 90-km-circumference particle accelerator to the magnets in medical imaging machines (See [link] ).

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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of physics. OpenStax CNX. Aug 25, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11738/1.5
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