In physics, paramagnetism is a type of magnetism that occurs in materials with a certain atomic structure. When in a non-magnetic environment, a paramagnet displays no magnetic properties; when inside a magnetic field, it immediately becomes magnetic. This is because the electrons inside the material’s atoms are able to align in a certain direction, resulting in a magnetic field. Paramagnetism is inversely proportional to temperature, which means lower temperatures cause stronger magnetic fields.
Paramagnetism was discovered and originally researched by British scientist Michael Faraday. He realized that some materials acted like negative magnets. In other words, the materials moved in the opposite direction when placed in magnetic fields. Faraday also discovered that most elements, and some compounds, display a level of paramagnetism. Compounds that contain materials such as platinum and iron are especially likely to be strong paramagnets.
The main difference between paramagnetism and ferromagnetism is that a paramagnet doesn’t have a magnetic field on its own. A ferromagnet creates a magnetic field whether it is placed next to magnetic material or non-magnetic material. Paramagnets, on the other hand, only become magnetic when placed inside magnetic fields. This means ferromagnetic and paramagnet materials display very different properties within a magnetic field.
All substances are made out of groups of atoms. Each atom has protons at the center, with a positive charge, and electrons orbiting around the outside in specific shells. In a paramagnet, some atoms inside the substance have unfilled inner shells. This causes each of the electrons to spin on its own axis, like a spinning top, as well as circle the center of the atom. When the substance is placed within a magnetic field, the field causes the electrons to align in a certain direction, resulting in a paramagnetic field.
Some paramagnetic materials become magnetic in all conditions, while others require a certain temperature to display magnetic properties. Sodium and platinum, for example, are weak paramagnets at all temperatures. The level of paramagnetism is governed by an equation known as Curie's Law, which states that the higher the temperature, the lower the magnetization.
Paramagnetism has been proven as scientific fact many times. It is an interesting phenomenon that’s also difficult to explain, however, so many alternative therapies and spiritual groups embrace the concept of paramagnetism. Claims made about the healing properties or spiritual applications of paramagnetic materials, however, have not been proven through scientific experiment.