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What is a Magnet?


An Introduction To Magnets

A magnet in its simplest form is a material that generates a magnetic field. The magnetic field is produced from the magnets’ goal to find the easiest (shortest) route from the North Pole to the South Pole, and vice versa. The magnetic field of a magnet can not be seen but is the reason for the ‘pulling force’ to other magnets and ferrous materials. A larger magnet will inevitably have a larger magnetic field and will attract objects from further away. There are many different types of magnets but Alnico is the preferred choice in schools for easy handling and much less risk than Neodymium, which is much more powerful.

Where Can You Find Magnets?

Magnets can be found in almost all everyday household items from electronics and fashion accessories to fridge magnets and DVD Box sets. With the discovery of small, strong Neodymium magnets, manufacturers and product designers across the world have found new ways to enhance lifestyle products with super strong magnets.

Use our list below to identify just some of the objects in your house that contain magnets. Can you find all these items in your house?

  • Computer & Stereo Speakers
  • Credit Card Magnetic Strip
  • Fridge Magnets
  • Computer & Television Screens
  • Computer System (Computer Hard Drive)
  • Door Bell Ringer
  • Can Opener
  • Microwave
  • MP3 Player / Mobile Phone

A Brief History

Magnets have been used by humans since the time of ancient Greece. It is believed that naturally occurring minerals called magnetite were first discovered by the Ancient Greeks in the area of Turkey.

Magnets used to be known as “lodestones”. The Vikings were known as the first people to utilize this magnetic material to create compasses that allowed them to navigate across the water through poor weather conditions to discover and conquer new land. It is thought that the Vikings kept the magnetic compass a secret for many years. Magnetic compasses can now be found in every ship across the world to navigate the open seas.

Today almost all magnets are manufactured using various natural materials from around the world. The most powerful of these magnets is known as a “neodymium magnet” and is manufactured using “rare earth minerals’. These are also known as “rare earth permanent magnets”. Use our ‘magnet types’ guide on this page to see the different types of manufactured magnets.

Like the Vikings and ancient Greeks, modern civilization learnt how to adapt and exploit the unique properties of magnets to pioneer new advancements in technology. "Rare Earth Magnets" have been at the forefront of renewable energy devices from electric cars to wind turbines.

Magnet Types

Alnico Magnets

Alnico is a ferromagnetic material used to make permanent magnets. Alnico magnets can produce strong magnetic fields and are one of the more commonly available types of magnets. Traditionally these magnets are most commonly known for their red colour and popularity as horseshoe and bar magnets in education.

Samarium-Cobalt Magnets

Samarium Cobalt magnets are a type of rare earth magnet constructed from an alloy of samarium and cobalt. These magnets are famous for their ability to operate in high temperatures up to 300 degrees Celsius. These magnets are however extremely brittle and chip and crack very easily.

Ferrite Magnets

There are two types of ferrite magnets. Soft ferrites are typically ferromagnetic ceramic compounds and are typically hard and brittle with a low magnetic coercively. Hard ferrites have a high coercively and are very resistant to losing their magnetism. Ferrite magnets are also well known for their cost to buy.

Neodymium Magnets

Neodymium magnets (NdFeb, NIB, Neo) are rare earth permanent magnets. Neodymium, pronounced Neo-Dym-ium is the strongest type of permanent magnet made. These magnets are used in renewable energy devices and are increasingly popular among technology manufacturers and hobby enthusiasts.