|Ferromagnetism: What is it? | Ferromagnetic Materials | Electrical4U
Iron, nickel, cobalt and some of the rare earths (gadolinium, dysprosium) exhibit a unique magnetic behavior which is called ferromagnetism because iron (ferrum in Latin) is the most common and most dramatic example. Samarium and neodymium in alloys with cobalt have been used to fabricate very strong rare-earth magnets. Ferromagnetic materials exhibit a long-range ordering phenomenon at the atomic level which causes the unpaired electron spins to line up parallel with each other in a region called a domain. Within the domain, the magnetic field is intense, but in a bulk sample the material will usually be unmagnetized because the many domains will themselves be randomly oriented with respect to one another. Ferromagnetism manifests itself in the fact that a small externally imposed magnetic field, say from a solenoid, can cause the magnetic domains to line up with each other and the material is said to be magnetized. The driving magnetic field will then be increased by a large factor which is usually expressed as a relative permeability for the material. There are many practical applications of ferromagnetic materials, such as the electromagnet. Ferromagnets will tend to stay magnetized to some extent after being subjected to an external magnetic field. This tendency to "remember their magnetic history" is called hysteresis. The fraction of the saturation magnetization which is retained when the driving field is removed is called the remanence of the material, and is an important factor in permanent magnets. All ferromagnets have a maximum temperature where the ferromagnetic property disappears as a result of thermal agitation. This temperature is called the Curie temperature. Ferromagntic materials will respond mechanically to an impressed magnetic field, changing length slightly in the direction of the applied field. This property, called magnetostriction, leads to the familiar hum of transformers as they respond mechanically to 60 Hz AC voltages.