The Great Magnetic Timeline
The end of the year is always a time for nostalgia—looking back on the past 365 days and taking stock of everything that’s happened. At Apex, we’re no different.
We gathered around a computer monitor to look back some of our favorite moments in magnetic news, but then we got to thinking. So much has happened in the world of magnetism. Not only over the last year, but since ancient times when that first curious person saw two items stick together as if by magic. While we don’t have the space to recount every moment in magnetic history, we thought we’d go over some of the highlights.
Magnes the Shepherd, c. 600 B.C.
This tale is so old it classifies more as legend than hard history. The story goes that while tending his flock, a Greek boy found himself stuck to a particular rock. In reality, the iron nails in his sandals were attracted to a particularly large lodestone in what is assumed to be present-day Turkey. Whatever actually happened, it ushered in the beginning of a centuries-old fascination with magnetism.
The Modern Compass, 1175
Flashing forward about 1,800 years, an English monk named Alexander Neckam first hints at the idea of using the Earth’s magnetic field to tell direction and orient travellers. While this idea wouldn’t make it out of the monastery for another 100 years, it was the beginning of a new age in magnetic possibilities.
Then, in 1269, a French crusader expounded upon Neckam’s notion and even detailed how a floating needle and pivot point might work. Thus, the modern compass was born.
Magnets Go Public, 1740
Magnets would not be widely distributed until the 18th century when a man by the name of Gowin Knight began manufacturing magnets to sell. However, we doubt he saw the DIY and craft potential of his devices. Knight’s main markets were scientific researchers and travellers who used the magnets to build their own compasses and other instruments.
While magnetism is still one of the universe’s most mysterious forces, a major breakthrough occurred in the laboratories of Hans Christian Oersted when he placed a compass next to a passing electrical current. As the electricity surged, Oersted observed the needle beginning to move and he (correctly) concluded that electricity must itself be magnetic.
Stronger Magnets, 1917-1930
In efforts to create stronger permanent magnets, different researchers and manufacturers began tinkering with their ingredients. In this 13-year span, the world was introduced to cobalt, alnico, and ceramic magnets.
Rare Earth Magnets, 1960
In the decade to come, U.S. Air Force scientist, Karl J. Strnat would unveil some of the strongest magnets to date. By adjusting the amount of various elements, Dr. Strnat made magnets we still use today. The strongest magnet he released was the Sm2Co17 (Samarium-Cobalt).
The rare earth magnets we know and love first took the stage in the early 80s, when General Motors combined neodymium with iron and boron to create a super-powerful magnet. These magnets were so efficient, they have since become the global standard.
These are just a few highlights in the long, fascinating history of magnetism. There have been countless discoveries and innovations over the years. As 2016 draws to an end, we can only look forward to all the great magnetic news awaiting in 2017!