A hyper-stable, crystallized form of carbon, graphite is a remarkable material, most commonly used to make pencils, electrodes, solar panels, lubricants, and perhaps most relevant to us magnet fisher folk, top-notch golf club shafts.
We all know how frustrating golf is, and what happens when someone misses their fourth put in a row? Why, they launch their expensive golf club into the nearest body of water, that’s what.
So, if graphite is magnetic, we stand to pull in some pretty impressive loot, especially if we head to the nearest golf course, but is this too good to be true? Let’s find out!
How Does Graphite React Around Magnets?
Unfortunately for us, graphite is diamagnetic, meaning that, when in the presence of strong magnetic fields, it will actually try and escape to the weakest point in said field.
This is most poignantly observed when you set up a square of magnets with alternating poles, as this arrangement leaves a weak spot dead center that holds the graphite in place, defying gravity.
If you altered this arrangement of magnets, the graphite would simply shoot off to the side, as with no central weakness in the field, it has to move laterally to escape it.
So, all things considered, we won’t be able to pull graphite objects from water with our fishing magnets, no matter how strong they are, but that’s not to say graphite has absolutely zero magnetic properties.
Is Graphite Magnetic?
Graphite may well literally repel the pull of magnets, but it does actually contain an exceedingly weak magnetism.
In fact, all matter is a little bit magnetic, if only on an atomic scale, as the electrons revolving around the nucleus of atoms create an infinitesimal magnetic field.
But for a while now, we’ve known that graphite not only has this base-level magnetism observed in the atomic building blocks of all matter, it has significantly more!
Scientists have postulated that these small (but comparatively large) magnetic signals can be traced back to minute, iron-rich impurities in the crystallized carbon.
Furthermore, in a recent Swiss study, scientists managed to pinpoint the source of the magnetic signals using MFM (magnetic force microscopy) and STM (scanning tunneling microscopy).
They discovered that the magnetic force of graphite stems from the defect zones in the carbon, which is where you’d assume iron deposits would settle.
Technically, this means pure graphite really isn’t all that magnetic, but if you consider these small imperfections as part of this element’s DNA, then it actually kind of is.
However, as far as magnetic fishing goes, it’s sadly beyond our reach — No free golf clubs for us.
Before we move on, it’s also worth noting that graphite reaches its magnetic peak at bog standard room temperature, and being that it’s going to be a lot colder than that at the bottom of a lake, our already dismal chances of recovering any become ever more hopeless.
Does Graphite React In Water?
The silver lining to all this is that it doesn’t really matter all that much that we can’t reel this material in with our magnets, as it’s almost completely inert in water.
Is it a good thing that there are probably tons of the stuff in rivers, lakes, and ponds around the US?
No, of course not, but are there countless other materials that are much worse for the environment out there? Yes, absolutely!
At least we can rest easy knowing that all the discarded graphite in the world isn’t steadily poisoning wildlife and making toxic baths of once clean bodies of water.
Is Graphite Even A Metal?
You’ll have noticed I’ve used the word “crystalline” a few times, a label usually given to certain rock structures, but not to metals.
This is simply because graphite isn’t a metal; it is indeed a crystal formation.
Considering that it’s used to form electrodes and nuclear reactors, this is a little confusing, as, typically speaking, rocks don’t conduct electricity, right?
Well – prepare to gasp – here’s the truly magical thing about graphite… it’s the only non-metal electrical conductor, and it doesn’t just do it… it does it well!
It’s not exactly a copper-level G.O.A.T.E.D conductor, but it’s not far off, which is pretty impressive for a crystal!
Can Graphite Be Made Into An Alloy?
If graphite could be mixed with other metals, metals with stronger magnetic signals, would it give us a better chance of snagging some on our next magnet fishing expedition, much like alloyed gold?
Well, yeah, there’s a chance, but strictly speaking, an alloy is the combination of two or more metals, and as graphite isn’t actually a metal, whether it can be called an alloy is debatable.
Still, metal can indeed be “impregnated” into graphite to form self-lubricating machine parts (typically bearings).
The question is… are the metals used to impregnate graphite magnetic? — Finally some good news; yes, they are.
Humanity’s go-to metal for making bearings is chrome steel, a highly magnetic material, and what’s more, these self-lubricating bearings are specialized for use outside due to their thermal resistance, meaning they’re much more likely to end up in our lakes and rivers.
So, we may just snag ourselves some graphite after all… just nothing even remotely close to pure graphite.
As a crystalline element, graphite easily resists the force of our magnets when we cast out.
In its purest form, it may actually evade them with fish-like dexterity, so I wouldn’t count on bringing some home any time soon.