History Of Magnets

The History of Magnets

The history of magnets goes back father than most of us are aware of. In fact, magnetism has been used for thousands of years! One of the oldest told stories about magnetism dates back to about four thousand years ago featuring a shepherd from Greece named Magnes. He was walking over the land in a place called Magnesia when his staff and sandals, both of which contained metal, became attracted to the ground. He found it increasingly difficult to walk up the mountain due to the ground’s unexpected pull. Come to find, the mountain on which he was walking contained a mineral called lodestone, which is the first magnetic material to be discovered. It is thought that the entire concept behind the term “magnetite”, the name later given to lodestone, was in honor of Magnes’s discovery. This is the earliest description of magnetism to date, but what is magnetism? Magnetism is the atomic response that one magnetic object has to another. Their magnetic fields will either be attracted or repulsed by each other, depending on the polarity.

Uses of Magnets

The history of magnets is quite diverse in terms of uses. In the beginning, the exploration of magnetism was largely restricted to the uses of health and beauty. The Chinese used magnets to aid in reflexology and acupuncture. Cleopatra was said to have slept on a slab of lodestone in belief that the magnetic properties of the stone would keep her looking youthful. The Greek culture also began using magnets around 2500 BC to aid in healing all sorts of maladies. The works of Plato and Aristotle include mention of using lodestone in order to heal and promote good health. Stories of lodestone carried on and eventually people began exploring theories that were more scientific in nature. Eventually it was discovered that a needle of lodestone carefully placed onto the surface of water would turn to point towards the North/South Poles, as it was drawn by the polarity of these points. There is no definition of how this discovery was made.

By the 1100’s AD Chinese sailors were using lodestone compasses based off of the lodestone/water discovery to aid in their travels. Although the compass was an extremely beneficial use of magnetism, it wasn’t until 1600 that an English doctor named William Gilbert conducted numerous experiments and actually gained a better understanding about how magnets and magnetism really works. In fact, he is credited with discovering how to construct magnets and also that the Earth has a magnetic field. A magnetic field is an invisible area around an object that produces a degree of force against other magnetic materials. In order for something to be magnetic, it must contain at least one of the following metals: iron, cobalt, steel, or nickel. In the 1700’s, Michael Faraday began conducting experiments which ended up proving to be the foundation of biomagnetism, the idea that living things can produce magnetic fields. His work was used to break ground on some remarkable studies in the 1970’s and is still used today.

Electromagnetism

In 1820, Danish physicist and chemist Hans Christian Oersted discovered that there is a relationship between electricity and magnetism. He was conducting a demonstration to students on heating a wire using an electric current and had a compass nearby for demonstrations on magnetism which he had planned to make later. Quite by accident, he discovered that every time the electrical current was turned on, the needle in the compass would jump. Although he was never able to figure out why this occurred, he did later write about this intriguing discovery.

Since then, the history of magnets seems so explode with possibilities. Studies have been done to examine the effects of magnets on rheumatic disease, neuralgia, sciatica issues, cancer, osteoarthritis, diabetes, and fibromyalgia in the health field alone! Today, magnets are used in everything from a simple electric motor, to the telephone, to a magnetically-levitated train! Studies are always being done on magnetism and seem extremely promising for future uses of the magnet.