What is the origin of magnetism?
The origin of magnetism is a very complicated concept. In fact, there are some details about magnetism on the atomic scale that scientists still do not fully agree on. To begin to understand where magnetism originates and why some materials can be magnetized while others cannot, requires a fair amount of quantum theory. Quantum theory is the study of the jumps from one energy level to another as it relates to the structure and behavior of atoms. However, explaining quantum theory is well beyond the scope of this material, so this subject will be reserved for high school and college chemistry and physics classes. The basic scientific principles of magnetism can be explained, nevertheless, a few generalizations and simplifications are made.
What does matter consist of?
First, you must recall that all matter is made up of atoms. Atoms have a positively charged center called the nucleus. A nucleus contains one or more protons and neutrons and is orbited by one or more negatively charged particles called electrons. A simplified animation of the center of an atom is what you observed. You should have concluded that the electrons spin as they orbit the nucleus (which contain protons and neutrons) much like the earth spins as it orbits the sun. As the electrons spin and orbit the nucleus, they produce a magnetic field. A. M. Ampere first suggested the theory that magnetic fields were due to electric currents continually circulating within the atom in the early 1800s. Ampere's insight was pretty amazing considering it was not known for sure whether atoms existed in the early 1800s and the electron would not be discovered for another 75 years.
Close this window after you are finished reading.