Magical Field

I’ve always been fascinated by the contrast between images and objects, between what you can see and what you can feel. I loved the disconnect of invisible forces and of intangible visions. Today’s object serves to illustrate both mysteries.

Magnet on Fridge casting light and shadow

Magnet on Fridge casting light and shadow

Magnets have always fascinated me. Their invisible forces are so strong up close, yet fade so fast over distance. I like the way they feel. The way they affect things without any visible connection. The way they -click- together, but pull apart like stiff taffy. This little guy is one of many that I order wholesale from KJMagnetics.com. (If you buy some via my links, I might earn some credit toward my next order.)

Magnet Closer UpLight has also been an active interest of mine. This day I was fascinated by the way the sun hit the side of my fridge and created this marvelous separation of bold beams of dark and light from the apparent poles of this magnet. (Actually,  This odd magnet is magnetized across the diameter; the better to make bracelets and such.)

Vision is so innate to us that most people don’t realize how incredibly complex our internal algorithms are that detect actual objects from the sea of illusions that is the visible world. The mystical world of light. It always amuses me to tease this sense of vision; the better to extend my view. And then to try to share.

Maxwell's EquationsI’d had the years of calculus and physics  necessary to understand Maxwell’s Equations (about how radio, magnets, light, electricity, static, and such are related). Contrary to popular belief, understanding the mysteries of nature increases ones appreciation. Mystery for the sake of wonder is another way of saying “ignorance”. With the math-enhanced mind one can see the forces, the vectors, and the field lines involved in holding this nickel-plated, sintered cylinder of neodymium alloy to the fridge, and the related fields of light and shadow reflecting from it. It’s wa-ay cool when you see it that way. Kinda like this comic.

Simpler math (basic integral calculus) shows why magnets stick so hard and pull away so quickly. Dipole forces (like a magnet or an atom) reduce at inverse-cubed rate, as opposed to the inverse-squared rate of light, electric fields, sound, and most other things. Knowing this in no way diminishes my childish delight in feeling the pull, in testing each new magnet, or in levitating neodymium between blocks of bismuth.

And I can’t resist: Electric fields are what keep the magnet from simply sinking into the fridge. Every “solid” object has a vibrating surface of atoms. More precisely, a surface of electron fields. What makes that hard “clack” when you slap hard things together is the electric fields around those surface electrons pushing each other apart, like quadrillions of little springs. But springs that obey the dipole inverse-cubed law of forces, where the radius is half an atom wide (the positive pole is each nucleus and an atom is about 1/10 of a nanometer wide). So it seems like you go from zero to sixty pounds of force in no distance at all. But there is squish on the nano-scale.

Thus my eye catches photons bouncing off of a shiny cylinder on the fridge, and I see those myriad little force fields of which everything is made, and try to illustrate them with a fridge magnet.

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