The short answer is no. Copper is not magnetic.
But how can this be?
In the article that follows, we will take the time to break down in easy-to-understand (and short) sentences why copper is not, in fact, magnetic.
Is Copper Magnetic? (EXPLAINED)
What is Copper?
The atomic symbol Cu represents copper on the periodic table of elements.
Copper is classified as a metal.
The five main properties for being classified as metal are:
- Thermal conductivity
- Electrical conductivity
- Chemical reactivity
Metals have high densities and melting points and are opaque when in a thin sheet.
They are often shiny (or lustrous) copper is mostly distinguishable by its red-gold color.
It is also an excellent electrical conductor.
What Are the Chemical Characteristics of Copper?
Copper (Cu) is found in group 11 on the periodic table of elements; in the same place, you would find Silver (Ag) and Gold (Au).
It has an atomic number of 29 and an atomic weight of 63.546.
Its melting point is 1083°C, and its boiling point is 2595°C.
It has a valence of +1 or +2 depending on the compound.
The chemical characteristics will not help you distinguish whether something is (actually) copper unless you are in a lab.
What Are the Physical Characteristics of Copper?
The most identifiable trait of copper is its color.
The reddish-gold color is distinguishable even in nature, although, if it is tarnished, it is brown.
Copper occurs in many minerals, such as chalcocite, chalcopyrite, and bornite.
Copper also turns green when it oxidizes.
Copper is in a solid state at room temperature like most metals except mercury and is extremely ductile.
Ductility is metal’s ability to be transformed or drawn into long wires under pressure.
Copper has a weak magnetic field.
However, magnets and copper are work friends, and that friendship helps us in our daily world quite a bit.
Electricity and Magnetism
Electricity and magnetism are very closely linked. In addition to being an excellent conductor of electricity, copper is a diamagnet.
A material that is a diamagnet like copper repels an external magnetic field like that produced by a magnet.
You can find several experiments online demonstrating this.
Spoiler alert: a magnet inside a closed copper circuit will slow down, and the momentum of the magnet will be converted into electrical current.
What happens is that the electrons on the surface of the copper will repulse the magnet, and this interaction is subject to Lenz’s law which is used to determine the direction of the induced current.
The induced current will move to oppose the outside change (magnet) that influenced it.
What Does Magnetic (Actually) Mean?
Magnetism is the motion of electrically charged particles that create a magnetic field.
The force being applied to the charged particles is dependent on three things:
- The magnitude of the charge
- The velocity of the particle
- Strength of the magnetic field
Magnetism very simply is the force that a magnet exerts to attract or repel another object.
All magnets have a north and south pole.
Magnets with like poles will repel each other, whereas the north and south poles will attract each other.
The earth is a magnet, thus our (magnetic) north and south poles.
The magnetic field between the two poles allows our compasses to work and find our way.
Magnetism is one of three non-contact forces on earth.
The other two are electrostatic and gravitational.
All materials have some degree of magnetism, but the most noticeable reactions come from ferromagnetic materials like iron, steel, cobalt, and nickel.
These materials are all classified as metals.
Materials are divided into three main categories when it comes to magnetism.
- Ferromagnetic like iron is attracted to magnets can become magnets and retain magnetization.
- Paramagnetic is when materials are weakly attracted to magnets. Still, the attraction is so weak that it is not noticeable unless you have a very strong magnet or very good equipment.
- Diamagnetic like our friend Copper, who repels magnets
The strongest type of magnet that we currently have is an electromagnet, an object that produces a magnetic field due to current moving through it.
Copper is a valuable material when it comes to building electromagnets.
What Makes a Material or Object Magnetic?
You don’t just pick up magnets lying around, but objects with the most noticeable magnetic properties are manufactured and contain iron or steel, which are ferromagnetic.
A ferromagnetic material has many unpaired electrons that spin the same direction, making them strongly magnetic.
In non-magnetic materials, the electrons are paired and spin in opposite directions.
Therefore, what makes a material or object magnetic is the quantity and presence of ferromagnetic materials in an object.
Copper is diamagnetic and is consequently not magnetic.
Why Is Copper Not Magnetic?
Copper is not magnetic because it contains neither ferromagnetic materials nor is copper itself ferromagnetic.
To make copper into a magnet, you would need to make it an electromagnet because it is an excellent conductor of electricity.
Acting as a diamagnet, it repels an actual magnet, and the momentum of the magnet becomes an electrical current.
Identifying Copper in the Wild
Put aside your metal detector if you want to find naturally occurring copper.
Both igneous and sedimentary rocks may contain copper.
You want to look out for the characteristic red-gold color or brown if tarnished.
You would also look out for oxidation and green flecks.
Copper oxidation is very noticeable, and the blue-green color is distinctive.
Copper can be found in its pure form (very rarely) or in combination with other minerals or sulfides.
Volcanic regions are best.
After identifying what you suspect is copper, take it to a lab for further testing.
For anywhere else, if you aren’t a budding geologist, try and make your reddish-gold wire into an electromagnet or polish and review your characteristics of metals.
If we review our original question, the short answer is no; copper is not magnetic.
However, copper can be and is used to create powerful electromagnets.
Its ductility makes it an excellent candidate for this kind of work.
Copper is a distinctive red-gold metal categorized with gold and silver on the periodic table of elements.
Its lack of unpaired electrons as a bulk metal prevents it from being ferromagnetic and, therefore, capable of strong magnetic properties like iron.
It is nevertheless a very pretty and useful metal.
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