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Rolls-Royce UTC

Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy

Studying at Cambridge


Magnetic Cornflakes


What is going on?

Cornflakes are magnetic because they contain a significant amount of iron, a magnetic material.  Standard cornflakes contain around 8 milligrams of iron per 100 grams (so 0.008% of the weight of a cornflake is iron).  This is enough to cause a floating cornflake to move when it is near a magnet.  


A Magnet vs a Magnetic Material...

We know that materials like iron (and materials that contain iron, like steel) are magnetic.  However, they don't always act like permanent magnets - we can't use a random piece of steel to pick up other bits of steel.  So, what makes a magnetic material act like a permanent magnet?

In any magnetic material, the atoms act like small magnets (so the atoms of iron in the cornflake do): 


In permanent magnets, all these small magnets line up. This makes the material act like one big magnet:



In magnetic materials that don't act like magnets, like steel, all these small magnets are misaligned, so there is no overall magnetic field:



However, when a permanent magnet is placed next to the material, all the small magnets in the magnetic material are aligned, acting like a big magnet too - the alignment means the materials now attract each other. 


Usually, if the permanent magnet is removed, then the material will go back to being misaligned again.  However, we can permanently magnetise a material by holding it in a strong magnet field.  This is what happens to knives and forks if we store them on a magnetic rack in the kitchen, or if we hold a paperclip next to a permanent magnet for a long time.  

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Dr. Lewis Owen appointed to a Junior Research Fellowship at Gonville & Caius College Cambridge

Jan 24, 2018

Dr. Lewis Owen has been appointed to a Junior Research Fellowship commencing in October 2018 at Gonville & Caius College Cambridge. We look forward to many more years of high quality research into the wonderful world of short range order.

Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology Visit

Jan 17, 2018

We had a fantastic time today hosting the uber-talented students from the Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology. We believe sharing some of our research and encouraging as many people as possible to consider STEM careers is a key responsibility for any scientist/engineer.

PhD studentships now available within the group

Jan 09, 2018

Navigate onto our vacancies page to find out more!

Strategic Partnership with Rolls-Royce shortlisted for a Times Higher Education Award 2017

Oct 03, 2017

The Rolls-Royce partnership with the universities of Cambridge, Swansea and Birmingham has been shortlisted for a Times Higher Education Award 2017. Find out more here:

New high temperature thermocouple

Nov 14, 2016

Dr. Michele Scervini has developed a new thermocouple for high-temperature applications