Most homes are full of appliances that operate by manipulating magnetic principles. However, it’s taken a long time to figure out what magnets do, why, and how they can best be manipulated for human use. Here’s a short overview of what you can and can’t expect to use your magnet for.
Magnets provide an excellent way to store data (whether something is magnetized or not can imply a 0 or a 1 and then boom, you’ve got a physical way of inputting digital data). Monitors also use magnets to create images and most doorbells use electromagnets to make noise. They’re integral to the functioning of video and audio equipment, compasses, and electric motors.
Magnets play a huge role in the generation and use of electricity. They can induce current in wire and create torque in for motors. They can even levitate objects and small animals. Magnets have more recently been used as a source of propulsion that allows for Maglev trains to travel at high speeds. Liquid magnets are utilized to fill rocket engines with fuel.
Humans haven’t created this magnetic situation, but it has had the handy effect of allowing for life as we know it on planet Earth: the Earth’s magnetic field, known as the magnetosphere, protects it from solar wind, which keeps outbursts from the sun from frying us all up.
Magnets are also used in the context of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which allows for magnetic fields to demonstrate the inner workings of patients’ internal organs. Doctors use this information to treat broken bones and diagnose issues.
Some claim that magnets have a variety of medicinal uses unsupported by scientific research. Proponents of non-doctor approved medical treatments claim that magnets can treat arthritis, cancer, and a variety of other ailments by either attracting iron found in hemoglobin in the blood or changing the structure of nearby cells. Clinical trials suggest that any positive benefits gleaned from magnetic treatments such as these are likely due to outside factors like the passage of time or the placebo effect.
Other debatable uses of magnets include the use of magnets to reduce hard water in homes or filter incoming water within a household’s water heater. Researches have responded to the claims by stating that most harmful minerals in hardwater are actually not ferromagnetic and that the scale build up within a household water heater is totally unrelated to whether or not the water was treated with magnets.
For the time being, it may be more reasonable to stick with the uses of magnets that have been proven to be helpful, like the spinning of an electric motor. In fact, electromagnetism is arguably one of the most helpful technological advances in the history of human kind.
Electromagnets consist of a length of conductive wire (generally copper) wrapped around a piece of ferromagnetic metal. When a current is pushed through the wire, it creates a magnetic field around the metal that causes it to start acting like a magnet. The ability to utilize a magnet for which the magnetism can be initiated and ended has proven extremely helpful for everyone from junkyard workers to famous musicians.