3.A08 | Fall 2005 | Undergraduate
Attraction and Repulsion: The Magic of Magnets


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Summary

My goals for this seminar include:

  1. teaching you some interesting things about magnets and their many uses in science and technology,
  2. exposing you to glimpses of the wide range of research that goes on in various departments at MIT,
  3. creating a friendly and low-pressure small-group environment, and
  4. giving you a little practice in oral and written communication.

You get 6 academic credits for the seminar, but I suspect your 12-credit courses consume more than twice as much time each week as the seminar. (That’s OK, but I do want you to learn something from the seminar!) In your other courses, the exams provide ample pressure to motivate you to study and learn the material, but the seminar has no exams. The only assigned “homework” to motivate study is seven short writing assignments and one oral presentation. (I gather some freshman seminars assign more homework, some assign less.) To try to maintain interest, I cover many different topics rather than a few in great depth.


Livingston, J. D. Driving Force: The Natural Magic of Magnets. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. ISBN: 9780674216457.

Readings in Driving Force will be supplemented by other articles and handouts distributed in class.

Course Calendar

The following table summarizes the topics covered in each class session.

1 Introduction: Basics of Hard and Soft Magnetic Materials Earth’s magnetic field, north and south poles, attraction and repulsion, magnetic torques, forces, energy. Hard (permanent) and soft (temporary) magnetic materials. Saturation magnetization, coercivity, magnetic viewers. Dr. James Livingston  
2 Magnetic Forces and Curie Temperatures Visit: MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center. See demonstrations of Curie temperature, induction, levitation, plasma control, etc. by MIT’s “Mr. Magnet.” Paul Thomas Assignment 1 due
3 Basics of Electromagnetism Magnetism from electricity (electromagnets), electricity from magnetism (induction), magnetic levitation. Dr. James Livingston Assignment 2 due
4 Magnetic Data Recording Visit: Prof. Ross’s Magnetic Materials and Devices Group. Discuss magnetic recording materials and systems, hard disks, other forms of data recording. Prof. Caroline Ross, Department of Materials Science and Engineering Assignment 3 due
5 Superconductivity Use liquid nitrogen to show the levitation of magnets above a “high-temperature” superconductor and learn a bit about superconductivity and its applications. We also may be able to cool other things to 77 Kelvin to see how their properties change. Dr. James Livingston Assignment 4 due
6 Brain Magnetic Fields Visit: Magnetoencephalography Lab. See how a magnetically shielded room and SQUIDs are used measure the magnetic fields produced by the human brain. Prof. Alec Marantz, Department of Linguistics Assignment 5 due
7 Oral Presentations - Part 1 Student presentations on the Gauss rifle, bird navigation, and magnetism and relativity. Students  
8 Magnets in Cyclotrons, CERN, and Space Visit: Cyclotron Building. Perform hands-on experiments in the large cyclotron magnet, directly seeing and feeling the effects of large magnetic fields on conductors. Learn about their space-based and land-based research employing magnets. Dr. Ben Monreal, Electromagnetics Group of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science Assignment 6 due
9 Oral Presentations - Part 2 Student presentations on NMR in chemistry, magnetic therapy, and rail guns and coil guns. Students  
10 Magnets in NMR, EPR, Mass Spectroscopy Visit: Chemistry Department’s Instrumentation Facility. See a collection of large superconducting electromagnets used for NMR and learn how they are used to analyze molecular structure. Dr. Hyongjun Pan  
11 Ferrofluids Begin with experiments on ferrofluids (suspensions of fine magnetic particles in liquids).

Visit: Prof. Doyle’s Dynamics of Biopolymers and Complex Fluids laboratory, where they have employed magnetic microparticles for DNA separation.

Prof. Patrick Doyle, Department of Chemical Engineering  
12 Wrap-up Discuss this seminar, your first term at MIT, and your plans for the rest of the school year.   Assignment 7 due
Course Info
As Taught In
Fall 2005
Learning Resource Types
assignment_turned_in Written Assignments with Examples
assignment Presentation Assignments