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Christian95's avatar

What would happen if I break a magnet to an atomic scale?

Asked by Christian95 (3250 points ) May 23rd, 2010

Let’s suppose I have a pure iron magnet and every atom of that magnet is magnetizated.This magnet has 2 poles(N and S) and if I start to break it I’ll obtain two smaller magnets and both have 2 newly formed poles.All of this is know,that poles are so far inseparable.
What if continue to break the magnet until I remain with only one atom of that magnet.How will that atom be?Will it still have 2 poles?
And what exactly creates magnetic fields(what makes the iron from this problem a magnet)?Why is iron so special that only it and it’s compounds can be magnets?

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18 Answers

anartist's avatar

Won’t your magnet get weaker as it gets smaller until there is no magnetic power in it at all?

Christian95's avatar

of course it would get weaker but I said that every atom has a “magnetic charge” and that can’t just disappear because is a violation of the conservation of the energy law

LuckyGuy's avatar

Wouldn’t that single atom still have its inherent spin? You did not take that away.
I figure it would still be a small magnet.

The_Idler's avatar

All atoms have a property called “spin”. This is basically the determinant of the magnetism of an object.

All atoms have “spin”, but in most objects the vast quantity of atoms of differing spin “directions” averages out into almost nothing. (imagine standing in one spot and walking one pace in the “direction” of each atom’s spin in an ounce of iron. You would walk about 650,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 paces {roughly 50,000,000 light years} but end up about where you started.)

In a magnetic object, the spins of most of the atoms have been “aligned”, so an average of the spins results in an imbalance, which manifests as a magnetic field.

The fact that your last atom of a magnet must necessarily have spin means that yes, it will still have a magnetic field, but not necessarily more so than any other atom in the Universe. Plus, the effects of magnetic fields at that level are negligible

LeotCol's avatar

I don’t think that magnets split their poles into half/half in terms of atoms. Its just half and half over everything. And when that everything is one atom, then its still half and half.

Christian95's avatar

@The Idler
so would that atom be a 2poles magnet or just 1 pole

The_Idler's avatar

@Christian95 No one has made a monopole.

Think of it like…. the net spin creates the magnetic field. There is no difference in the spin of atoms at the N or S of a magnet, but the average direction of spins determines the “direction” of the field.

In any case, it goes “out” one end and comes back “in” the other. Even in the case of a single atom…

Read Magnetic_monopole “Background” section, it will explain it quite well.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

A monopole magnet is a purely hypothetical object. Because of the inherent spin of protons, even if you split the magnet down to a hydrogen nucleus you would still have a dipole magnetic field.

Coloma's avatar

You will immedietly spontaniously combust and become one with the magnet.

HungryGuy's avatar

You’ll cause a micro black hole that will devour the earth. So don’t try it!

The_Idler's avatar

@Rarebear Yeah I heard about that, but @FireMadeFlesh‘s comment still stands.

Those are not monopole magnets; they’re about as close to one as making a really long bar magnet and hiding one end up your sleeve.

Rarebear's avatar

@The_Idler The physics is way over my head. I just remember reading the article when it came out last year.

Nullo's avatar

It would behave like a magnet, even at that size. At that scale, it’s an atom thing and not a magnet thing.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Rarebear Interesting article, thanks.

roundsquare's avatar

@The_Idler I thought spin was, like a lot of things in quantum mechanics, random. So would the poles keep switching directions?

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@roundsquare No, the poles would not switch directions. Protons are either spin ‘up’ or spin ‘down’, and it takes a radio-frequency pulse or some similar input of energy to change it to the other state. The spin direction is directly associated with its polarity, since any moving charge creates a magnetic field.

The_Idler's avatar

That’s basically it. It’s like a conveyor belt with rollers.

When working (aligned, i.e. in magnet) on the top, they are all moving (conveying, rolling) in one direction, but they MUST be moving in the opposite direction on the bottom.

Likewise with one roller. It is still rolling, so the field still exists, one way (pole) on “top” and the other on the “bottom”.

This is why spin is a good word to describe the property.

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