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ZetaTalk: Ferromagnetism
Note: written on Apr 15, 1996.

From childhood to adulthood, magnets have fascinated man. Young children are given sets of magnets to play with, linking them end to end. School children are shown, with iron ore dust, just how those invisible magnetic lines reach and curl, preparatory to a lecture about the Earth's magnetic field and on to how to use the compass when lost in the woods. The use of magnets so permeates industrialized human society that one would be hard pressed to find an aspect not affected. Claspless doors are secured with magnets, airplanes fly on automatic based on magnetic alignment, and recyclers separate out metal with magnets, to name but a few. Yet magnetism is not understood by man, though theories abound. It's clear that something flows, but just what is flowing is unknown. It's clear that direction is important, but just what is dictating this direction is unclear. It's clear that magnetism occurs naturally, especially in certain ores such as iron, but what it is that is special about iron ore is a puzzle.

Magnetism is the palpable, measurable effect of a subatomic particle not yet delineated by man. In fact, there are several dozen sub-atomic particles involved, out of the 387 involved in what humans assume to be simply the flow of electrons. Where electric current can be made to flow in any direction, the path of least resistance, magnetic flow seems to be very single minded. In fact, it is also going in the path of least resistance, as can be seen when one understands the path and what constitutes resistance for magnetic flow. Unlike electricity, which only occasionally flows in nature, the flowing sub- atomic particles that constitute a magnetic field are constantly flowing. This is the natural state, to be in motion. The path of least resistance, therefore, is to go with the flow, and the flow is determined by the biggest bully in the vicinity.

A single atom of iron, isolated, will establish the direction of flow based on the tightly orbiting electron particles, of which there are hundreds of sub-types. These tight orbits arrange themselves in a manner not unlike the planets around a sun, but the field, of course, is much more crowded. Given the fairly static number of these particles that will hang around an iron ore nucleus, the orbiting swirl may have a rhythm, rather than a steady hum. Put 3 groups of 3 into a cycle of 10 and you have whomp whomp whomp pause. Should the cycle, based on the nucleus and the electron sub-atomic particles it attracts due to its size and composition, be 4 groups of 3 in a cycle of 12, you would have whomp whomp whomp whomp. The steady hum of the second cycle does not lack a magnetic flow, it is just diffuse. The irregular cycle in the first example finds the magnetic flow escaping during the pause. Being attracted again to the best partner in the vicinity, the single iron atom, the magnetic sub-atomic particles will circle around, taking the path of least resistance which of course is on the other side of the atom from the outward flow.

Placing a second iron atom next to the first finds the two lining up, so the flow escaping during the pause of each goes in the same direction. This is a bit like forcing a second water flow into a flowing stream. Toss a stick into both forceful streams and you will see that the water flows are moving in the same direction as much as possible - the path of least resistance. In this manner the magnetic flow of the largest bully forces all else in the neighborhood to line up. Where the iron ore atoms are caught in an amalgam and not altogether free to shift their positions within the amalgam, the magnetic flow may physically move the amalgam, this being, again, the path of least resistance. For those who would state that magnetism is not a thing, as it can't be weighted or measured or seen, we would point to the child's trick whereby two magnets are held positive end to positive end. Let go and they move so that they are aligned positive end to negative end. What made these magnets move, if not a thing?

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