Ring Magnets: What are they?

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Magnets attract magnetic materials and produce magnetic fields. There are two types of magnets: permanent and electromagnets. Ring magnets are permanent and have a hole in the middle. They are made of rare earths or blends of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt. The magnetization process creates north and south poles. Ring magnets are used in scientific experiments and have medical applications, such as disabling implantable cardiac defibrillators.

Magnets produce magnetic fields or areas where potentially magnetic materials, such as iron, are polarized and attracted to the magnet. There are two types of magnets: permanent magnets and electromagnets. Permanent magnets have a constant magnetic field, while electromagnets produce a field only when an electric current flows through the coil that forms part of their structure. Ring magnets are permanent magnets that are distinguished by their shape: They are round with a hole in the middle, and are sometimes called donut magnets because of this shape.

A variety of materials are used to make permanent magnets. They are often made of one of a group of materials called rare earths, which are mixtures of elements – usually neodymium, iron and boron or samarium and cobalt. Alnico magnets are blends of aluminum, nickel and cobalt. There are also weaker magnets made from magnetic materials, such as iron oxide, mixed with non-magnetic materials, such as plastics or ceramics. Magnetic elements produce the field, while non-magnetic elements give the shape of the magnet.

However, these materials are not naturally magnetic – they simply have magnetic potential. In the factories where they are made, workers first shape the material into the desired shape and can coat the magnet to make it more colorful. Then, they pass the object through a strong electromagnet, which induces magnetic properties in the object that remain even after the electromagnet is turned off. If the electromagnet is strong enough, this process creates a permanent magnet.

The magnetization process creates poles on the magnet that are labeled north and south, and each repels like poles and attracts opposite poles. The location of the north and south portions of the ring magnets depends on how polarized they are; one half is always north and one half is south. Sometimes, the magnet is split so that one side of the ring is north and the other south, but different types of polarization can create magnets that are split into quarters or eighths. The north and south segments always alternate around the ring.

Ring magnets are most commonly used in scientific experiments, although they also have medical applications. Some people have implantable cardiac defibrillators, or ICDs, which automatically apply shocks to the heart if the rhythm develops irregularities. If the devices malfunction, they can shock patients unnecessarily, leading to irregular rhythms and possibly death. Medical personnel sometimes place these magnets on patients’ chests over ICDs to disable the devices.

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