What is magnetism?

  • Magnetism is a force experienced by certain metals.

  • There are two poles of magnetism - north and south.

  • Like poles push each other away but opposite poles pull each other together.

A sustainability manager explains why it is important to recycle our ferrous (magnetic) metals

What is magnetism?

Magnetism is a force that can be felt by metals such as iron, steel, nickel and cobalt. These are called ferrous metals.

Many other metals do not feel the force of magnetism and are non-ferrous. For example aluminium, a metal that is often used to make cans for fizzy drinks, does not feel the force of magnetism.

Magnetic poles

Every magnet has two poles, north and south. When the north pole of one magnet is close to a north pole of another magnet, they repel each other. Like poles repel.

However, if a north pole of one magnet is near the south pole of another magnet, they are drawn together. This is because opposite poles attract.

Permanent and temporary magnets

Some ferrous metals can be made permanently magnetic. These are called hard magnetic materials and they keep their magnetism for a long period of time.

Other ferrous metals are not magnets on their own but become magnetic when another magnet is close to them. These metals lose their magnetism as soon as the magnet is taken away. They are called soft magnetic materials.

How can we use magnetism?

Recycling plants use magnets to attract all of the iron and steel out of the mixed waste. Separating waste like this makes it easier to recycle these materials for future use.

Magnetism quiz

Test your knowledge of magnetism with this quick quiz.

Where next?

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