magnets and electricity

The Greeks discovered magnetism in 600 BC. However, it wasn’t until the year 1820 when the fascinating link between electricity and magnetism was identified.

Today, electricity and magnetism are very important in everyday life. Electromagnets are used in many items including Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines, particle accelerators, speakers, and earphones.

But how do magnets and electricity interact?

Keep reading to learn about the link between magnets and electricity and why the discovery of electromagnetism changed our world.

What Is Electricity?

Electricity is a form of energy arising from charged particles (such as electrons and protons).

There are two main types of electricity.

Static electricity does not form a current. Instead, it has an imbalance of charged particles that generate electricity. Examples include lightning and the zaps you may feel when folding your laundry.

Current electricity involves a constant flow of electrons through a conductor, such as metal.

What Is Magnetism?

This explanation will require a bit of atomic knowledge. In an atom, the center consists of a nucleus of neutrons (with a neutral charge) and protons (positive charge). Circling this nucleus are electrons, which are negatively charged.

When these electrons spin around a nucleus, they generate a small magnetic field. Usually, these small magnetic forces are canceled out due to the random spinning of electrons.

Magnets are different. They have electrons that spin in the same direction, causing a positive and negative pole on the magnet, and generating a magnetic field.

How Do Magnets and Electricity Interact?

Magnetism and electricity are closely related. In fact, magnetism can be used to generate electricity and electricity can be used to generate magnetism.

Magnets can generate electricity. This occurs by moving a magnet around a coil of wire, or by moving a coil of wire around a magnet.

This action moves the electrons within the wire and then generates an electrical current. This arises by creating a changing magnetic field.

Electricity can also produce magnetism. As the electrical current flows through a wire, it makes a circular magnetic field outside of the wire.

What Do We Use Electromagnetism For?

The discovery of the close relationship between magnets and electricity, or electromagnetism, was a revolutionary one. Electromagnets are used in many industries, including scientific, medical, and mechanical fields.

Here are a few examples of everyday electromagnetism:

  • in the junkyard: a large electromagnet is used to handle and move cars
  • in electric cars: electric motors power these increasingly-popular vehicles
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometers
  • tape recorders
  • Maglev trains, which travel at very high speeds

Final Thoughts

Although we’ve only understood the relationship between magnets and electricity for under 200 years, the discovery has been monumental.

With electromagnetism, important medical imaging, sound recording, and even motorized machinery were made possible. And the applications of electromagnetism continue to grow.

For more scientific articles on electricity, magnetism, and their myriad of uses, visit our blog today.