Yes, nickel is magnetic, but a nickel (the coin) is not.
This article will give you an in depth look at the nickel, what it looks like, where it came from and what it’s used for.
Is Nickel Magnetic? (EXPLAINED)
Have you ever wondered if any of your United States coins are able to stick to a magnet?
If you already know that nickel is magnetic, you might be particularly curious about your five-cent coin.
Well, the short answer is “no”, nickel coins do not stick to magnets.
Alternatively, “yes” nickel is very much magnetic!
A nickel isn’t only a five cent coin struck by the United States Mint.
Nickel or niccolite has a long history of important magnetic uses, from making currency to batteries and medical and military equipment.
What Is Nickel?
Use of this hard, ductile, silvery-white metal as natural meteoric nickel–iron alloy has been traced as far back as 3500 BC.
But the discovery of nickel ore in Europe in the 1600s, is a tale of mistaken identity and superstitious mythology.
German miners came upon a previously unknown nickel ore on their search for copper in the Ore Mountains.
Believing they’d discovered a new type of copper, the miners attempted to extract it.
However, the rocks failed to produce.
The frustrated miners blamed all their valueless labor on Nickel, a mischievous demon in German mythology, for playing a prank on them.
They began calling the ore Kupfer nickel, which translates to “copper demon.”
Thankfully, in 1751, what is now simply called nickel was discovered at a mine at Los, Hälsingland, Sweden, by the Swedish chemist Axel Fredrik Cronstedt within the ore mineral niccolite (NiAs).
Cronstedt thought it might contain copper, but what he extracted was a new type of metal which he announced and named nickel three years later in 1754.
Natural nickel consists of five stable isotopes: nickel-58 (68%), nickel-60, nickel-61, nickel-62, and nickel-64.
Its atomic number is 28 on the periodic table of the elements.
Its Curie point is 671 °F, meaning it is extremely resistant to heat.
Only above this temperature will nickel lose its permanent magnetic properties.
This extremely useful metal is the 5th most abundant element present on earth.
There is a long history of nickel being used as the US five-cent piece.
But nickel is rarely used in its pure form.
Therefore, the coin is composed of 25% nickel and 75% copper.
A large portion of nickel is used as an alloying element in manufacturing cast iron and stainless steels.
Before the creation of rare earth magnets in 1975, they were the strongest type of permanent magnet developed.
What Does Magnetic Mean?
In layman’s terms, the word “magnetic” refers to any metal that shows visible attraction to a magnet.
This means, magnetism is the force that attracts materials to one another.
It can also do the opposite, called diamagnetic, and repel them.
Magnetism is just one aspect of the combined electromagnetic force field.
Since 1819, the term “magnetic susceptibility” has been the scientific term for the degree to which a material is attracted to or rejected by a magnetic field.
Due to a quantum mechanical property named “spin”, magnetism arises from the spinning momentum and orbital angular motion of electrons or electric charges.
Quantum mechanics explains that every substance on earth is made up of very small units called atoms.
Each atom has electrons, which are small particles that carry small electric charges.
Spinning around and around, the electrons circle the core, or nucleus of an atom, generating electric currents that cause each electron to act as a microscopic magnet.
Most matter is non-magnetic, meaning in most things, equal numbers of electrons spin in opposite directions, which cancels out their magnetism.
Although some materials such as nickel have electrons that are not paired with other electrons, the unpaired electrons are then free to pair themselves with a magnetic field.
The result is combined magnetic attraction.
This is the case with metallic nickel because it has enough unpaired electrons, and it displays traditional magnetism.
The metals that don’t show magnetic attraction don’t have adequate unpaired electrons and are considered both physically and magnetically inert.
Why Is Nickel Magnetic?
Materials which are attracted to a magnet are called magnetic materials or ferromagnetic.
Iron, Nickel, and Cobalt are the only three naturally magnetic substances on earth.
This is because all three of these metals in pure form and objects made up of these metals are attracted to a magnet.
Those materials that are not attracted to a magnet are called non-magnetic or paramagnetic.
All substances other than iron, nickel, and Cobalt, examples include glass, plastic, water, and rubber are non-magnetic materials.
Non-magnetic substances cannot be magnetized unless mixed with a magnetic metal such as nickel.
A great example of this is testing a gold chain or any gold piece of jewelry.
Pure 24karat gold is magnetically inert, meaning it does not display any magnetism.
Pure gold can be diamagnetic, meaning that it can actually repel or push away from a magnet.
However, if 10k gold or lower, especially only gold-plated jewelry, is mixed with enough iron or nickel, it can become magnetic or ferromagnetic.
This magnetic testing is a very common way of distinguishing if jewelry is real or fake.
Now let’s take a closer look at the reasons for nickel’s ferromagnetism in a more detailed way.
According to the electronic configuration, [Ar] 3d8 4s2, nickel is ferromagnetic in nature because it has 2 unpaired electrons parallelly aligned in the d orbital.
These two unpaired electrons align or “spin” when in the presence of an external magnet and remain aligned even in the absence of a magnetic field.
This is the sole reason for the ferromagnetic nature of nickel and why nickel is considered a permanent magnet.