What is Magnetism?

What is Magnetism?

Sources of Magnetism

Types of Magnetism



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What is Magnetism?

mag·ne·tism noun - \mag-na-,ti-zəm\

• the property of attracting certain metals; the attracting property of a magnet
• a quality that makes someone able to attract and hold the interest of other people

A Brief History

Magnetism is one type of phenomena that involves forces exerted by magnets on other magnets. The origins come from electrical currents and elementary particles' fundamental magnetic moments. These create a magnetic field that acts on other currents and other moments.

Magnetism goes back centuries, occuring as early as Aristotle. Its use has been widely varied, but the first documented surgical use occured in ancient India, where the surgeon Sushruta documented use with a patient. The earliest literary reference occurs in ancient China in the 4th century BC. The earliest mention of the occurance of magnetic attraction occurs between AD 20 and 100.

The magnetic compass and navigational system occured with the scientis Shen Kuo, in 1031-1095. And by the 12th century, the Chinese had adapated the lodestone compass for navigational purposes, using a sculpted spoon from a loadstone in such a way that the handle always pointed south. The compass then moved to Europe with Alexander Neckam in 1187. William Gilbert was the first to conclude that the Earth itself was magnetic and that this was the reason compasses pointed north. His research occured in 1600.

In 1819, magnets, the understanding thereof, and the impact of magnetism experienced a radical new development. Hans Christian Oersted (Copenhagen University) discovered electrical current could influence a compass needle. This landmark occurance is known as "Oersted's Experiment".

Several other expiriments followed, specifically with Andre-Marie Ampere, who discovered the magnetic field circulating in a closed-path related to the current flowing through the perimeter of the path, in 1820. The Biot-Savart Law of 1820 gave an equation for the magnetic field from a current-carrying wire. Well known scientist, Michael Faraday, found in 1833 that a time-varying magnetic flux through a loop of wire induced voltage. These insights were expanded upon by James Clerk Maxwell, who formed Maxwell's Equations, and unified electricity, magnetism, and optics into what we know as electromagnetism. Further, in 1905, Einstein used the laws in motivating his theory of special relativity, requiring that the laws held true in all inertial reference frames.

Throughout the 21st Century, electromagnetism has continued to develop. It's been incorporated into theories of gauges, quantum electrodynamics, electroweak theory, and finally the standard model.

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