Magnetic metallic elements
Many materials have unpaired electron spins, and the majority of these materials are paramagnetic. When the spins interact with each other in such a way that the spins align spontaneously, the materials are called ferromagnetic (what is often loosely termed as magnetic). Because of the way their regular crystalline atomic structure causes their spins to interact, some metals are (ferro)magnetic when found in their natural states, as ores. These include iron ore (magnetite or lodestone), cobalt and nickel, as well the rare earth metals gadolinium and dysprosium (when at a very low temperature). Such naturally occurring (ferro)magnets were used in the first experiments with magnetism. Technology has since expanded the availability of magnetic materials to include various man made products, all based, however, on naturally magnetic elements.
Ceramic or ferrite
Ceramic, or ferrite, magnets are made of a sintered composite of powdered iron oxide and barium/strontium carbonate ceramic. Given the low cost of the materials and manufacturing methods, inexpensive magnets (or non-magnetized ferromagnetic cores, for use in electronic component such as radio antennas, for example) of various shapes can be easily mass-produced. The resulting magnets are non-corroding, but brittle and must be treated like other ceramics.
Alnico magnets are made by casting or sintering a combination of aluminium, nickel and cobalt with iron and small amounts of other elements added to enhance the properties of the magnet. Sintering offers superior mechanical characteristics, whereas casting delivers higher magnetic fields and allows for the design of intricate shapes. Alnico magnets resist corrosion and have physical properties more forgiving than ferrite, but not quite as desirable as a metal.
Ticonal magnets are an alloy of titanium, cobalt, nickel, and aluminium, with iron and small amounts of other elements. It was developed by Philips for loudspeakers.
Injection molded magnets are a composite of various types of resin and magnetic powders, allowing parts of complex shapes to be manufactured by injection molding. The physical and magnetic properties of the product depend on the raw materials, but are generally lower in magnetic strength and resemble plastics in their physical properties.
Flexible magnets are similar to injection molded magnets, using a flexible resin or binder such as vinyl, and produced in flat strips, shapes or sheets. These magnets are lower in magnetic strength but can be very flexible, depending on the binder used. Flexible magnets can be used in industrial printers.
Rare earth magnets
Main article: Rare-earth magnet
Rare earth (lanthanoid) elements have a partially occupied f electron shell (which can accommodate up to 14 electrons.) The spin of these electrons can be aligned, resulting in very strong magnetic fields, and therefore these elements are used in compact high-strength magnets where their higher price is not a concern. The most common types of rare earth magnets are samarium-cobalt and neodymium-iron-boron (NIB) magnets.
Single-molecule magnets (SMMs) and single-chain magnets (SCMs)
In the 1990s, it was discovered that certain molecules containing paramagnetic metal ions are capable of storing a magnetic moment at very low temperatures. These are very different from conventional magnets that store information at a magnetic domain level and theoretically could provide a far denser storage medium than conventional magnets. In this direction research on monolayers of SMMs is currently under way. Very briefly, the two main attributes of an SMM are:
a large ground state spin value (S), which is provided by ferromagnetic or ferrimagnetic coupling between the paramagnetic metal centres.
a negative value of the anisotropy of the zero field splitting (D)
Most SMMs contain manganese, but can also be found with vanadium, iron, nickel and cobalt clusters. More recently it has been found that some chain systems can also display a magnetization which persists for long times at higher temperatures. These systems have been called single-chain magnets.