Ferromagnetism is the basic mechanism by which certain materials (such as iron) form permanent magnets, or are attracted to magnets. In physics, several different types of magnetism are distinguished. Ferromagnetism (along with the similar effect ferrimagnetism) is the strongest type and is responsible for the common phenomenon of magnetism in magnets encountered in everyday life. Substances respond weakly to magnetic fields with three other types of magnetism—paramagnetism, diamagnetism, and antiferromagnetism—but the forces are usually so weak that they can be detected only by sensitive instruments in a laboratory. An everyday example of ferromagnetism is a refrigerator magnet used to hold notes on a refrigerator door. The attraction between a magnet and ferromagnetic material is “the quality of magnetism first apparent to the ancient world, and to us today”.
Permanent magnets (materials that can be magnetized by an external magnetic field and remain magnetized after the external field is removed) are either ferromagnetic or ferrimagnetic, as are the materials that are noticeably attracted to them. Only a few substances are ferromagnetic. The common ones are iron, cobalt, nickel and most of their alloys, and some compounds of rare-earth metals. Ferromagnetism is very important in industry and modern technology and is the basis for many electrical and electromechanical devices such as electromagnets, electric motors, generators, transformers, and magnetic storage such as tape recorders, and hard disks, and nondestructive testing of ferrous materials.
Ferromagnetic materials can be divided into magnetically “soft” materials like annealed iron, which can be magnetized but do not tend to stay magnetized, and magnetically “hard” materials, which do. Permanent magnets are made from “hard” ferromagnetic materials such as alnico and ferrimagnetic materials such as ferrite that are subjected to special processing in a strong magnetic field during manufacture to align their internal microcrystalline structure, making them very hard to demagnetize. To demagnetize a saturated magnet, a certain magnetic field must be applied, and this threshold depends on coercivity of the respective material. “Hard” materials have high coercivity, whereas “soft” materials have low coercivity. The overall strength of a magnet is measured by its magnetic moment or, alternatively, the total magnetic flux it produces. The local strength of magnetism in a material is measured by its magnetization.