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Q & A: magnets and iron

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
Im doing a science experiment and i need to know if a metal with iron in it will be attraced to a magnet closer or farther away than a metal without iron such as aluminum copper nickel.
- Sean (age 12)
US
A:
Most of the ordinary metals you’re likely to come across with iron (various types of steel) are more or less magnetic and will be rather strongly attracted to a magnet. There are some exceptions- having some iron content does not automatically make a metal ’ferromagnetic’- i.e. having domains of magnetically aligned atoms. Most of the familiar metals which don’t contain iron are not ferromagnetic and will be very weakly attracted to or repelled by a magnet. These metals include copper, aluminum, silver, and gold. Pure nickel is ferromagnetic, however, and will be strongly attracted to a magnet. I think that nickel coins are actually non-magnetic nickel alloys- that’ll be easy for you to test. You can get some metals and trust your supplier (for example, a local hardware store) to label them properly, you will find the answer to your question as you do your project. Be careful, though, as some metals are poisonous or otherwise dangerous to handle. An example of a common poisonous metal is lead -- please ask your parents or teacher before handling unfamiliar metals.

Mike W and Tom J.

(published on 10/22/2007)

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