What does a magnet contain which makes it attract metals?

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Offline thedoc

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Vinayak Abbot asked the Naked Scientists:
   
What does a magnet contain which makes it attract metals?

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 11/08/2012 09:30:01 by _system »

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Offline evan_au

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Re: What does a magnet contain which makes it attract metals?
« Reply #1 on: 11/08/2012 10:39:30 »
Magnets only attract certain metals - those with unpaired inner electrons, which can line up with an external magnetic field.

What makes a material magnetic is that its atoms also have unpaired inner electrons, but these are locked in a crystal lattice which makes them resistant to lining up with an external magnetic field, so they retain the "memory" of their own magnetic field.

Such materials are called "ferromagnetic"; the name comes from the best known example - Iron, chemical name "Fe".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferromagnetism#Origin_of_magnetism