Being a metal, plutonium should technically be magnetic but on the contrary, all evidence and studies up to this point in time have shown the exact opposite. A team at Los Alamos National Laboratory have found where the magnetism plutonium is missing actually exists.
But there are plenty of metals that don’t stick to a magnet
Yes, that’s true, though “magnetic” in this sense means something a little different. Metals that don’t stick to magnets are known as “non-ferrous metals”. Some of these metals include copper, aluminum, lead, and nickel along with alloys such as brass. These metals share many similarities, but the one that keeps them from sticking to magnets is the fact that they don’t have trace amounts of iron in them. The iron is what makes other metals stick to magnets, but without it, they won’t.
Non-ferrous metals that are missing magnetism are used in many industries to combat the magnetic properties of other metals. Magnetic in this sense refers to the atomic magnetic state.
Plutonium and Its Odd Magnetism-Missing State
Marc Janoschek of the Los Alamos Lab says that, on the atomic level, each atom of a metal has a set number of electrons that orbit the nucleus that never changes. This set number of electrons is referred to as the metal in its “ground state”. The neutrons and electrons both have a magnetic field that creates an opportunity for the atom to be aligned in another magnetic field.
However, when plutonium’s ground state was first measured, it was found that its ground state could consist of four, five, or six electrons. There was no constant amount of electrons in its unaltered, fixed ground state.
Plutonium fluctuates between three different ground states while also simultaneously being in all three states, all at the same time. The basis for this theory was first imagined at Rutgers University in 2007, but thanks to Janoschek and his team, it has been proven correct. The reason as to plutonium’s missing magnetism has been found.
How Do Magnets Actually Work?
By now, it may be confusing to some what magnetic actually means. Metals that are magnetic in the vernacular sense–being able to stick to a magnet–rely on an unpaired electron in each atom. Electrons of connecting atoms pair up, attaching their north and south poles, creating a neutral magnetic field.
When there is an extra electron in an atom, though, all of the unpaired electrons in all of the atoms face the same way on the metal and create a cluster of small magnetic fields, resulting in one big magnetic field. In essence, the spare electrons reach out to find other spare electrons in different materials, and when they find them, they connect together: as magnets.
Because plutonium basically has a number of electrons that constantly changes, there is never a constant unpaired electron to create a magnetic pull, and therefore plutonium will not ever be magnetic. It seems that plutonium’s missing magnetism has been there the whole time. It just hasn’t been constant long enough to be recorded.