Super strong magnets are used in science and engineering applications where naturally formed magnets are not strong enough. Scientists have discovered ways to enhance the natural magnetic properties of some materials with electricity. Other super strong magnets are created from elements such as neodymium, sometimes alloyed with other metals. Such magnets have many common uses in modern technology, as well as more unusual applications in scientific research and even veterinary medicine.
Magnetism is a natural property of many materials; some metals, such as iron, have such strong magnetic fields that they attract other metals. This occurs because the atoms of the iron have electrons that spin in tandem, unlike those of other materials, which spin in random directions. This creates a powerful attraction to items with a similar atomic structure. In 1824, scientist William Sturgeon discovered that electricity could vastly increase this attraction, creating the first electromagnet. Later scientists improved on the process, inventing super strong magnets that could be turned on and off with the flip of a switch.
In the late 20th century, scientists discovered that certain elements could be combined into the most powerful super strong magnets yet created. These rare earth magnets include samarium–cobalt and the even stronger neodymium magnets. Their magnetic fields are so strong that they can ruin sensitive magnetic materials such as computer drives and credit cards if brought too close. In fact, large neodymium magnets can even cause hazards to human health if improperly handled. These magnets have such a strong attraction to metal that they could actually crush anything between them and a nearby metal object, including a human hand.
Super strong magnets have many applications in science and engineering. Basic television sets and computer monitors use electromagnets to focus electron beams to create images. A similar process, greatly amplified, is used in particle accelerators for scientific research. Magnetic levitation or maglev trains use high-powered magnets to move train cars along without making actual contact with their rails. Trains in Japan, Germany, and other locations use this process to achieve a faster, friction-free ride.
Super strong magnets are commonly used in stereo speakers, electric motors and generators, and electrical transformers. In medicine, magnetic resonance imaging allows non-invasive exploration of patients’ bodies. Junkyards use electromagnets on cranes to lift cars and other large metal objects. A most unusual use for powerful magnets is the cow magnet, designed to be swallowed by cattle. The cow magnet lodges harmlessly in the cow’s stomach, preventing any accidentally ingested metal objects from interfering with the animal’s digestive tract.