Most people think they have a clear answer of what a magnet is and does, but in reality, even modern scientists do not completely understand the full potential of magnets and exactly why magnets work the way they do. Scientists are often surprising us with new and useful technologies developed from magnetism. In addition to the scientific applications, many diverse groups, from homemakers to construction workers, have found practical and unusual uses for the magnet.
On some airlines, first-class customers receive their food on a plastic tray with metal cutlery. Once the flight has landed, the dirty trays are whisked away to a processing area where they are placed on a conveyor for processing. Magnets are often used to separate the metal cutlery from the tray. In this way, hundreds of trays can be processed quickly – cleaned, sanitized, and ready for service on a future flight.
You have probably noticed the security tags that stores sometimes place on valuable items to keep them safe. These tags have magnetic properties that cause the alarm to chime when the tag passes through the store’s door. Libraries use magnets for a similar purpose, adding a small magnetic piece of tape to protect valuable books.
Magnets are even used to assist scientists in the laboratory. When mixing chemicals, particularly those that need to be in a sealed container, magnet stirring is used to safely and thoroughly mix the solution. As a handy and elegant solution, a magnetic stirrer can be placed on the bottom of the beaker causing the solution to twirl around allowing the scientist or lab technician to work safely.
These unusual uses of the simple magnet are through-provoking for their own sake, but it is also inspiring to think about the ingenuity of humans to find creative solutions to make life easier.