The Amazing Features of Magnets

Posted on October 12, 2012 by Nikhil P Naik

If you thought magnets were just what you attached notes to the fridge with, you’d be wrong; they are all around us. A lot of people forget that the Earth has its own magnetic field. Magnets are used a lot in technology – they are found in TVs, computers and microwaves, they keep your fridge door closed, the scrap yard uses them to sort rubbish and they are even used to slow down rollercoasters and trains in the subway. Here we look at how the features of magnets allow us not just to live on the planet, but some of their applications within health and disease.

Vital for life on Earth

MagnetsAlthough scientists can’t be exactly sure why the Earth has its own magnetic field, it is likely as a consequence of the Earth’s moving molten iron core, in which the flowing of electrical currents generates a magnetic field. In fact, if it was not for the Earth’s natural magnetic field it is unlikely that our planet would be able to support life; it protects us by deflecting solar winds, which are made up from fast moving particles that would otherwise damage our protective atmosphere, notably the ozone layer, whose role it is to shield us from receiving too much UV radiation.

As the Earth’s magnetic field leaves its mark in rocks, from looking at the fossil record it appears that a change in this might have led to led to the extinction of the dinosaurs; a sudden change in the Earth’s magnetic field today and we would likely suffer the same fate.

Magnetism and the natural world

Those of us who go hiking and take a compass use the Earth’s magnetic field to determine the right direction in which to go, but have you ever wondered how animals are able to migrate up to thousands of miles without getting lost? It seems that the Earth’s magnetic field might also play a role in navigation for migratory animals such as birds, turtles and salmon, as well as in the direction taken by herd animals, notably cows and deer.

Magnets are also thought to help some animals catch their prey; this has been identified in sharks and foxes. A lot more research is required into this area to help scientists understand the process of how animals use magnetic fields.

Earth Magnets

Medical imaging through magnets

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is used in medical science to allow doctors to take detailed pictures of internal structures within the body, allowing them to identify injuries and diagnose disease. MRI machines use strong magnets and radio waves; particles in the body called protons are aligned, they spin and the resulting energy is detected allowing a 3-D image to be generated of the examined area.

Healing properties of magnets

Cleopatra was said to wear a magnet on her forehead to ward against ageing, though is there any truth in the potential for magnets to keep us fit and well? It has been suggested that our bodies need magnetic fields to help them to keep in balance and that modern buildings, as well as being surrounded by so much modern technology, can interfere with our exposure to the Earth’s magnetic field.

Many people wear magnetic bracelets to help with a range of health problems – everything from poor circulation to joint pain and insomnia. Although there is not a huge amount of scientific evidence out there for the use of magnets in the treatment of medical conditions, advocates have suggested that the magnetic field exerted by magnets when worn can improve circulation, which in turn can reduce inflammation and aid the removal of toxins from the body.

It has also been said that magnets may alter the flow of calcium ions, which could potentially help with muscle and bone pain, or equally magnets could stimulate the release of endorphins, which act as natural pain killers. However, the other commonly held opinion is that when worn on the wrist, a pressure point is stimulated, the one which has been used for centuries in traditional acupressure to help with pain relief in the arms, shoulders, neck and with headaches. Whether or not magnets really can benefit health remains to be seen; their opponents are of the opinion that benefits, if exerted, are via the placebo effect.

Fighting addictions through magnets

During the 1990’s magnets worn in the ear went on sale to help people trying to quit smoking. Indeed some people have found that wearing these small discrete magnets did help them to kick the habit. If they really do work, it has been suggested that they act through acupressure, as pressure on the part of the ear where they are worn stimulates the release of endorphins and consequently dopamine. This is the same chain of events that would be experienced on smoking, so it has been suggested that this can reduce cigarette cravings.

About the Author: Ruth writes science articles for a number of education sites and health businesses.

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About Nikhil P Naik

Nikhil Naik has a Master's Degree in Information Systems, and is currently working as a Software Engineer at Microsoft. He also loves playing cricket, listening to music, and traveling. Twitter Handle - @buzz_nikhil.

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