Magnets are everywhere in our everyday lives! Hard drives that store data in your computer are coated with a magnetic material, the speakers in your headphones are powered by magnets, and your refrigerator uses magnets to hold its door shut. But did you know that magnets can only operate within a certain temperature range?
Does the temperature of a magnet affect its strength? How? Why?
Heating the magnet will cause the magnet to have a weaker magnetic field. Cooling the magnet will cause the magnet to have a stronger magnetic field. Cool magnets can be farther away from the compass than hot magnets when they make the compass’ needle move.
An important part of the relationship between magnets and temperature is the fact that heating the magnet causes its molecules to become more disorderly. Magnets are dipoles, which means they have an opposite charge, or magnetic direction, at each end. This is a result of most of the magnetic molecules facing the same direction. When we heat our magnets, those polar molecules start moving around. The average direction of the entire magnet’s polarity becomes a little bit messier because those magnetic molecules are no longer facing the same direction.
If magnets are heated to the Curie point, they lose their ability to be magnetic. The dipoles become so disordered that they can’t return to their original state. Curie points are very hot, and you would not be able to get your magnets to reach them without special lab equipment. For iron, the Curie Point is 1417°F.
As your boiled magnet cools from the boiling temperature of 100°C back to room temperature, it will return to its normal magnetic strength. Cooling the magnet even further to 0°C in ice water or -78°C in dry ice will cause the magnet to become stronger. Cooling causes the molecules in the magnet to have less kinetic energy. This means that there is less vibration in the magnet’s molecules, allowing the magnetic field they create to be more consistently concentrated in a given direction.
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