MAGNETISM – Diamagnetism, Paramagnetism, Ferromagnetism and PERMANENT MAG NETS AND ELECTROMAGNETS (NCERT 12TH PHYSICS)


Diamagnetic substances are those which have tendency to move from stronger to the weaker part of the external magnetic field. In other words, unlike the way a magnet attracts metals like iron, it would repel a diamagnetic substance.

A bar of diamagnetic material placed in an external magnetic field. The field lines are repelled or expelled and the field inside the material is reduced. In most cases, as is evident from this reduction is slight, being one part in 105. When placed in a non-uniform magnetic field, the bar will tend to move from high to low field. The simplest explanation for diamagnetism is as follows. Electrons in an atom orbiting around nucleus possess orbital angular momentum. These orbiting electrons are equivalent to current-carrying loop and thus possess orbital magnetic moment. Diamagnetic substances are the ones in which resultant magnetic moment in an atom is zero. When magnetic field is applied, those electrons having orbital magnetic moment in the same direction slow down and those in the opposite direction speed up. This happens due to induced current in accordance with Lenz’s law. Thus, the substance develops a net magnetic moment in direction opposite to that of the applied field and hence repulsion.

Some diamagnetic materials are bismuth, copper, lead, silicon, nitrogen (at STP), water and sodium chloride. Diamagnetism is present in all the substances. However, the effect is so weak in most cases that it gets shifted by other effects like paramagnetism, ferromagnetism, etc. The most exotic diamagnetic materials are superconductors. These are metals, cooled to very low temperatures which exhibits both perfect conductivity and perfect diamagnetism.

A superconductor repels a magnet and (by Newton’s third law) is repelled by the magnet. The phenomenon of perfect diamagnetism in superconductors is called the Meissner effect, after the name of its discoverer. Superconducting magnets can be gainfully exploited in variety of situations, for example, for running magnetically levitated superfast trains.


Paramagnetic substances are those which get weakly magnetised when placed in an external magnetic field. They have tendency to move from a region of weak magnetic field to strong magnetic field, i.e., they get weakly attracted to a magnet.

The individual atoms (or ions or molecules) of a paramagnetic material possess a permanent magnetic dipole moment of their own. On account of the ceaseless random thermal motion of the atoms, no net magnetization is seen. In the presence of an external field B0, which is strong enough, and at low temperatures, the individual atomic dipole moment can be made to align and point in the same direction as B0. A bar of paramagnetic material placed in an external field. The field lines gets concentrated inside the material, and the field inside is enhanced. In most cases, as is evident, this enhancement is slight, being one part in 105. When placed in a non-uniform magnetic field, the bar will tend to move from weak field to strong.


Ferromagnetic substances are those which gets strongly magnetised when placed in an external magnetic field. They have strong tendency to move from a region of weak magnetic field to strong magnetic field, i.e., they get strongly attracted to a magnet.

The individual atoms (or ions or molecules) in a ferromagnetic material possess a dipole moment as in a paramagnetic material. However, they interact with one another in such a way that they spontaneously align themselves in a common direction over a macroscopic volume called domain. The explanation of this cooperative effect requires quantum mechanics and is beyond the scope of this textbook. Each domain has a net magnetisation. Typical domain size is 1mm and the domain contains about 1011 atoms. In the first instant, the magnetisation varies randomly from domain to domain and there is no bulk magnetisation.  When we apply an external magnetic field B0, the domains orient themselves in the direction of B0 and simultaneously the domain oriented in the direction of B0 grow in size. This existence of domains and their motion in B0 are not speculations. One may observe this under a microscope after sprinkling a liquid suspension of powdered ferromagnetic substance of samples. This motion of suspension can be observed. The situation when the domains have aligned and amalgamated to form a single ‘giant’ domain. Thus, in a ferromagnetic material the field lines are highly concentrated. In non-uniform magnetic field, the sample tends to move towards the region of high field. We may wonder as to what happens when the external field is removed. In some ferromagnetic materials the magnetisation persists. Such materials are called hard magnetic materials or hard ferromagnets. Alnico, an alloy of iron, aluminium, nickel, cobalt and copper, is one such material. The naturally occurring lodestone is another. Such materials form permanent magnets to be used among other things as a compass needle. On the other hand, there is a class of ferromagnetic materials in which the magnetisation disappears on removal of the external field. Soft iron is one such material. Appropriately enough, such materials are called soft ferromagnetic materials. There are a number of elements, which are ferromagnetic: iron, cobalt, nickel, gadolinium, etc. The relative magnetic permeability is >1000!

The ferromagnetic property depends on temperature. At high enough temperature, a ferromagnet becomes a paramagnet. The domain structure disintegrates with temperature. This disappearance of magnetisation with temperature is gradual. It is a phase transition reminding us of the melting of a solid crystal. The temperature of transition from ferromagnetic to paramagnetism is called the Curie temperature Tc.


Substances which at room temperature retain their ferromagnetic property for a long period of time are called permanent magnets. Permanent magnets can be made in a variety of ways. One can hold an iron rod in the north-south direction and hammer it repeatedly. The illustration is from a 400 year old book to emphasise that the making of permanent magnets is an old art. One can also hold a steel rod and stroke it with one end of a bar magnet a large number of times, always in the same sense to make a permanent magnet.

An efficient way to make a permanent magnet is to place a ferromagnetic rod in a solenoid and pass a current. The magnetic field of the solenoid magnetises the rod. The hysteresis curve allows us to select suitable materials for permanent magnets. The material should have high retentivity so that the magnet is strong and high coercivity so that the magnetisation is not erased by stray magnetic fields, temperature fluctuations or minor mechanical damage. Further, the material should have a high permeability. Steel is one-favoured choice. It has a slightly smaller retentivity than soft iron but this is outweighed by the much smaller coercivity of soft iron. Other suitable materials for permanent magnets are alnico, cobalt steel and ticonal.

Core of electromagnets are made of ferromagnetic materials which have high permeability and low retentivity. Soft iron is a suitable material for electromagnets. On placing a soft iron rod in a solenoid and passing a current, we increase the magnetism of the solenoid by a thousand fold. When we switch off the solenoid current, the magnetism is effectively switched off since the soft iron core has a low retentivity. In certain applications, the material goes through an ac cycle of magnetisation for a long period. This is the case in transformer cores and telephone diaphragms. The hysteresis curve of such materials must be narrow. The energy dissipated and the heating will consequently be small. The material must have a high resistivity to lower eddy current losses. Electromagnets are used in electric bells, loudspeakers and telephone diaphragms. Giant electromagnets are used in cranes to lift machinery, and bulk quantities of iron and steel.


Because of its practical application in prospecting, communication, and navigation, the magnetic field of the earth is mapped by most nations with an accuracy comparable to geographical mapping. In India over a dozen observatories exist, extending from Trivandrum (now Thrivuvananthapuram) in the south to Gulmarg in the north. These observatories work under the aegis of the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism (IIG), in Colaba, Mumbai. The IIG grew out of the Colaba and Alibag observatories and was formally established in 1971. The IIG monitors (via its nation-wide observatories), the geomagnetic fields and fluctuations on land, and under the ocean and in space. Its services are used by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd. (ONGC), the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It is a part of the world-wide network which ceaselessly updates the geomagnetic data. Now India has a permanent station called Gangotri.

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