In short, lead is not magnetic.
However, lead will interact with a magnetic field if the magnetic field is strong enough.
In this article, we will talk about the composition, formation, and physical characteristics of lead.
Then we will explore what magnetism is and what it means for a material to be magnetic. Finally, we will revisit the initial question, “is lead magnetic?” and discover why the answer is not as straightforward as it may seem.
Is Lead Magnetic? (EXPLAINED)
What is Lead: Composition, appearance, and formation
Lead is a metal recognized by its atomic symbol Pb in the periodic table of elements.
It has an atom with eighty-two protons, the highest among stable elements.
Lead may appear silvery or shiny and white before oxidation, which turns it into a dullish gray.
We can discover lead within mineral ores called Galena, along with other metals including silver, copper, and zinc.
While it is rare in nature, we can mine lead from the Earth’s crust.
Lead forms from the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium, and is processed through a radioactive gas known as radon.
Additionally, lead absorbs both gamma and X-radiation.
Lead is known as a post-transition or basic metal.
Post-transition metals are usually softer when compared to other metals and have a lower melting point.
Therefore, lead is a relatively softer and unreactive metal. Lead is also:
Lead is one of the oldest metals and while it is a sad conductor of electricity, it is corrosion-resistant.
What Does Magnetic Mean?
Magnetic force happens when electrically charged particles are in motion and produce a magnetic repulsion or attraction.
A magnetic field is the area surrounding an object where a magnetic force is observable – an area surrounding a magnet, for instance.
We can think of the Earth as an enormous magnet.
Earth generates a magnetic field called a geomagnetic field which originates in its core.
Roughly, Earth generates a magnetic field through the motion of solid and liquid metals that make up its nickel and iron-rich center.
Like the path traveling Earth’s magnetic field, a magnetic object’s magnetic field zips around in loops from a north to a south pole.
A magnetic field is invisible.
However, we may observe a magnetic field indirectly.
We can witness the observable force created by a magnetic field that either attracts or repels a material.
Like our understanding of gravitational force, we observe magnetism through its effect on other objects.
One way to observe the Earth’s magnetic field indirectly is by poking a magnetized needle through a piece of cork and setting it to float in a container of water.
Eventually, the needle will align with the magnetic field of the Earth.
What Causes Rocks’ Magnetism?
The Earth’s magnetic poles are not exactly aligned with the north and south poles as we understand them to represent geographically.
However, they are immensely similar.
The magnetic field of the Earth moves in small increments and at various times has been the reverse of how it’s demonstrated currently.
While we don’t fully understand why the magnetic field reversal occurs as it does, we can speculate that it happens when the magnetic field weakens and builds up once again, with an equal probability of flowing in one direction or another.
Rocks are the most basic recordings of past magnetic field reversals.
Therefore, many rocks contain iron-rich minerals which behave like miniature magnets.
The minerals take on the alignment of the magnetic field prior to the rocks solidifying.
Thus, magnetism is a characteristic of the rock.
Why is Lead Non-Magnetic?
In general, lead is considered to be a non-magnetic material.
Specifically, lead is known as a diamagnetic material, magnetically repulsive but weak.
Furthermore, ferromagnetic material, like iron, is magnetically powerful.
Understanding the difference between diamagnetic and ferromagnetic materials helps broaden our understanding of lead’s magnetic properties and why we consider lead non-magnetic.
Diamagnetism vs. ferromagnetism
All materials have some degree of magnetism, even lead.
However, some metals experience a stronger magnetic force than other metals.
Ferromagnetic metals like iron are known as permanent magnets.
A ferromagnetic metal has a strong magnetic field which creates a force that is strong enough for people to feel on Earth.
On the contrary, a diamagnetic metal like lead creates a much weaker magnetic force.
Lead tends to oppose the stronger external magnetic field of a ferromagnetic material like iron and reacts by repelling such a magnetic field when it encounters it.
Consequently, because lead creates a weaker magnetic field, it is much harder to detect without powerful lab instruments.
In other words, while we consider lead to be non-magnetic, a strong enough magnetic field can interact with lead by inducing a weak repulsive reaction.
So, while a refrigerator magnet will not interact with lead, a much stronger magnet will.
Therefore, lead is not magnetic in any way that we can easily observe.
However, because lead is a diamagnetic material, it can interact with a magnetic field in a weak way that is observable when using special equipment.
Essentially, the electrons within a diamagnetic material spin faster and thus create a resistant magnetic force.
If the goal is to search for and find lead, we can conclude using a simple magnetic instrument will not be sufficient, but it may not be necessary either.
Galena, the primary mineral ore containing lead, is incredibly easy to spot when you know what to look for.
We talked about the composition, appearance, formation, and properties of lead and discussed what magnetism is and why a material may or may not be magnetic.
Moreover, we examined why lead is non-magnetic in the everyday sense while building on the understanding that all materials are magnetic to some degree.
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