Why Does a Magnet Attract Iron?

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A magnet attracts iron because the iron particles in a steel magnet align in north/south directions and are then able to react with a piece of iron. Make a permanent magnet with information from a math and science teacher in this free video on magnets.

Part of the Video Series: Science & Environmental Facts
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Video Transcript

Hi I'm Steve Jones and I'm going to explain why a magnet attracts iron not just iron other faromagnetic materials and there are other magnetic materials like iron. First of all let's look at the magnet. The magnet usually is made of steel which contains iron of course and inside iron or steel normally you have this kind of arrangement or should I say not this arrangement but this lack of arrangement that inside iron there are lots of little magnets. Every atom is a magnet and it has a North and a South Pole but in the normal range of things these are all arranged any old way so they call cancel out. There is as many North Poles as South Poles in any direction so it isn't in overall terms magnetic. The significance of iron is that when you actually put a magnet next to it or you even put it in a magnetic field like through using an electric wire and making electromagnets the little magnets inside all line up and in fact with steel you can get them lined up and they will stay lined up and that is why it becomes what we call a permanent magnet because what we have done is we have made all those little magnets inside all line up so you end up with a North Pole overall at this end and a South Pole overall at this end. Well if you have got a permanent magnet here and here you have got a piece of iron, when you bring the iron up to the magnet the North Pole sees the South Poles and is attracted. It sees North Poles and it repels so North repels, North South, repels, South but North attracts South. So if the poles are different there is an attraction and if they are the same there is a repulsion so within this piece of iron what is going to happen is all of the little domains as we call them inside flip around so all the Souths face the North and this becomes essentially another magnet and the two attract. Of course they stay attracted too because this is a permanent magnet. If those were an electromagnet, maybe when we switch it on and make our North South magnet, this would line up and be attracted but when we switch this off the magnetism disappears and these would go back maybe to the alignment. This depends very much on the material and the way we make the magnet. So this is basically why a magnet attracts iron.

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