is an attraction or repulsion between objects, be they atomic electrons, globular protein or global air masses. Science doesn't know what this fundamental force is, except it arises from "primary atomic particles" which occur in pairs with opposite "electric charge." Electrons and protons are the best known atomic pair, but the nuclear family now embraces many kissin' siblings, including "charmed" cousins, "strange" in-laws and other "quarks." Atomic particles come in three electric flavors: positive, negative and neutral (no charge).
Atomic particles have another quality: mass. Again, they're opposite: protons are large and heavy, electrons are tiny and light. Being 1836 times lighter, electrons move easier than protons, and thus carry electric charge from atom to atom. "Electricity" is also a stream of migrating free electrons, be they in a wire, thundercloud or interstellar gas.
Atoms with equal protons and electrons are in electric balance—"neutral." However, many elements easily lose an electron to become positive. Electrons become "free" to wander interatomic subspace. Few remain free, since other elements easily capture them to acquire "negative" electric charge.
Atoms with electric charge are ions. Most chemical reactions are ionic: acid (+) and base (-) unite to form water and salts—balanced ion pairs (Na+Cl-). A simple electric battery is two metals with different ionic properties alternated in a stack.
MAGNETISM is a different force of attraction AND repulsion between objects which also manifests as two polarities: north and south. Like electricity, magnetism's true nature remains a dim elusive mystery to science. Electric charge is at least located in particles, but no particle to transmit magnetism has been found.
Rather, magnetism arises because all atomic particles spin. Electrons orbit protons, and each rotates on its own axis. Particles can align their spin axes in one direction—and become magnetic. Thus magnetism is a collective axial orientation.
Very few elements are magnets in a balanced electric state. Only three are natural mined magnetic ores: iron, cobalt and nickel. But as ions, with one or more unpaired electrons in electric charge states, many elements become magnetic; in biology, the most crucial is oxygen.
Few people, including scientists, grasp how magnetism and electricity are different, causing serious public and experimental confusion. Not until '88 did NY PSC request "magnetic standards" for powerlines separate from electric exposure limits. A July 1989 NY Times headline—"Panel Calls for Electric Field Studies"—should have read Magnetic. While distinct, both are intimately associated—their relationship has odd significances.
Magnetism is a collective alignment of the whole—a cooperative state of axial and orbital spins. But electricity is individualistic: opposite charges reside on separate particles. An object always has BOTH magnetic poles (dipole), but has EITHER positive or negative electric charge (monopole). Electricity, then, is more fully polarized than magnetism.
Magnetism penetrates everything, even lead, concrete, wood—and our skin. It's hard to shield magnetism, since nearly nothing in matter impedes its passage. Geomagnetism passes unhindered 8,000 miles through the center of the Earth's center. However, electricity is blocked by many materials, making possible insulated wire and printed circuits to restrict and control electron flow.
Sign of the Dragon
Electricity and magnetism are often explained by analogy to water. In electric rhetoric "voltage" (v) is analogous to water "pressure," and "current" (amps) is water "volume." Ancient people said magnetism is an invisible cosmic fluid. The metaphor is appropriate—no one's seen the mysterious force which causes water to flow down to the lowest point; for that matter, no one's seen the wind—they're invisible. So, too, magnetism imparts motion to electrons. EM is invisible waves on an etheric ocean.
Bar magnets are static and unchanging, yet magnetic fields in Nature are rarely constant, but fluctuate and pulsate. While static electric and magnetic fields are simple and easy to grasp, it becomes a wild ride of complexity as soon as they change.
Electricity is linear time; charged particles in motion. But magnetism is circular space; enclosing objects in donut-shaped fields, like loops of magnetic flux revealed by iron filings.
Like yin and yang, magnetic and electric interact to create each other. Thus, a wire with an electric current is enclosed in spirals of magnetism. Earth's magnetic flux loops in giant rings to encircle our planet pole to pole; in the rarified plasma of Earth's upper air, electrons travel corkscrew paths along these flux lines.
This line-to-circle relationship is why energy always moves in spirals. It's also an ancient riddle: squaring a circle. Square and circle united is the mystical union of physical and spiritual. This linear unraveling of circular motion is the "sine wave"—EM's universal signature—spoor of the undulating serpent.
Pulse of Life
Changing magnetic flux "induces" free electrons to move in an electric current. Oppositely, moving electrons "generate" magnetic fields. You can't change one without generating the other.
It's dynamic—it needs movement and change. Static magnets don't create electricity; static electricity won't make magnetism. Only change in magnetic flux induces electric current; only moving electrons generate magnetism. Thus in a generator, a spinning rotor induces electricity; not moving, it yields no current.
Power supply and communication use "alternating current" (AC) where free electrons flow one direction for an instant, then reverse to flow in the opposite direction. Thus electric current "oscillates" in the wire. "Frequency" is how many times each second the current flow reverses, and is measured in "hertz" (hz)
Electrons flowing in a wire create a magnetic field around the wire. When current stops, the magnetic field collapses. When current reverses, magnetism is created of opposite polarity. So AC generates pulsating magnetic fields. PULSATING magnetism from powerlines and gadgets seems to interfere with cell function.
This EM synergy is proportional: higher electric current generates stronger magnetism. Thus high-voltage powerlines have low currents and weaker magnetic fields. However, low-voltage secondaries used for local distribution often carry high currents, thus have strong magnetic fields. Higher currents will be closest to the transformer on a circuit. Strong pulsating magnetic fields from high current lines are implicated in cancer, brain cell and fetal abnormalities.