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What are Magnets?

Last updated date: 04th Mar 2024
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An Introduction to Magnets

Have you ever played with magnets? And by magnets, it is meant these two heavy pieces of metal that are always stuck to each other or to a metal surface. You must have also noticed that magnets stick together only if made in one direction. Opposite sides often repel each other.

If you’ve wondered about these questions, ‘What are magnets made of?’ ‘Which two sides repel?’ ‘What kind of material attracts a magnet?’ ‘How does Magnetism work?’ Then this article might help you find answers to some of these questions. Let's jump right in!

Depiction of a magnet

Depiction of a Magnet

What are Magnets?

A magnet is a special type of metallic substance that is able to attract metals towards itself. Magnets produce an imaginary magnetic field (like an imaginary territory). Any metallic object that is present within a magnet’s magnetic field gets attracted towards it (any metallic object within its territory belongs to that magnet!).

Magnets are able to attract or pull objects even from a distance as long as the metallic object is present within its territory (called its magnetic field).

A magnet placed in a magnetic field

A Magnet Placed in a Magnetic Field

Poles of a Magnet

Magnets have 2 ends, which are often called ‘poles’. So, a magnet has 2 poles namely, the north pole (denoted by N) and the south pole(denoted by S).

The magnetic field (recall, a magnet’s territory) is strongest towards and around the pole. In other words, a metallic object is more easily attracted to the magnet when placed near the poles than anywhere else around a magnet.

The Earth has a North Pole and a South Pole. It is important for you to understand that magnets are very important as the Earth behaves as a huge magnet itself!

Poles of a horseshoe and bar magnet

Poles of a Horseshoe and Bar Magnet

Magnetic Field

In simple words, the magnetic field can be defined as the area surrounding which the magnet can exert a ‘magnetic force’ to attract magnetic objects towards it. Irrespective of the size and shape of the magnet, all magnets exhibit a magnetic field.

The magnetic field is an imaginary concept. It helps us to understand the working of a magnet and its properties better. 

The magnetic field is represented by ‘field lines’ which are closed continuous curves of increasing size emerging from the poles of a magnet, surrounding the entire magnet.

It is important to understand that the ‘magnetic force’ produced by a magnet is related to the strength of the magnetic field and not to the size or shape of the magnet.

Magnetic field lines

Magnetic Field Lines

How does Magnetism work?

Magnetism can be defined as a force of push or pull exerted by a magnet on a metallic object. It is also referred to as the ‘magnetic force’. On a much deeper level, it is due to a specific alignment of electrons (negatively charged species) within the solid itself. 

This property has a wide application in our modern-day technology. It is used majorly in electronic devices, both in households and industries. Any device you name, TV, computer, ovens, tablets, they all have magnets in them

Objects That Attract and Repel

Substances can be classified based on their behaviour around magnets. The magnetic behaviour of an object is an important physical property studied in Chemistry and Physics.

  • Objects which are attracted to a magnet when placed under a magnetic field are called ‘magnetic objects’. Examples of magnetic objects include metals like iron, cobalt, nickel, etc.,

  • Objects which are not attracted to a magnet when placed under a magnetic field are called ‘non-magnetic objects’. Examples of non-magnetic objects include non-metals like silicone, plastics, carbon, etc.,

Going by the famous saying “Like poles repel and unlike poles attract” the north pole of a magnet only attracts the south pole of the magnet and vice versa. North poles repel each other and the same holds true for the south poles.

Magnetic and non-magnetic objects

Magnetic and Non-Magnetic Objects

Attraction and repulsion of magnets

Attraction and Repulsion of Magnets

Properties of a Magnet

We have some specific properties which determine a magnet such as the following:

  • Magnets attract magnetic substances.

  • When suspended freely (tied by a string at the centre and let to hang freely), it aligns its poles towards the north and south direction (remember the earth is a magnet?).

  • Poles of a magnet are always paired (you can only find magnets with BOTH the poles and never with just one)

  • Like poles of a magnet repel; unlike poles attract.

Uses of Magnets in Everyday Life

  • Computers and other electronic devices probably have millions of tiny magnets in their components that help their proper function.

  • Magnetics is used to produce energy through generators.

  • They are widely used in compasses to mark directions during travel.

  • MRI scans use huge magnets to produce the required scan images.


Magnets are metallic objects that attract other metallic objects placed within their territory called the magnetic field. The magnetic field is an imaginary field of lines within which the magnet is able to exhibit its magnetic forces.

A magnet has 2 poles called the north pole and south pole, which align to the Earth’s North Pole and South Pole when made to suspend freely. Like poles of a magnet repel and unlike poles attract. 

FAQs on What are Magnets?

1. Are all metallic objects magnetic in nature?

No, all magnetic objects are metals but not all metals are magnetic in nature. Only heavy metals like iron, cobalt, nickel, and several others are magnetic in nature due to the alignment of electrons within their atoms. This property is defined as ferromagnetism which you will be learning in higher classes.  Several light metals like copper, brass, and aluminium are non-magnetic in nature so they cannot be made into magnetic objects.

2. How is earth a magnet?

The centre of the Earth has molten metal substances which are believed to behave like a giant magnet. Due to its magnetic behaviour, the core produces a magnetic field around the core itself as well as surrounding the Earth. Thus Earth behaves like a huge magnet having a North Pole and a South Pole producing a strong field of magnetic force around it like a thick blanket. It is due to this property that the phenomena of the northern and southern lights occur in the poles.