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Paramagnetism is a form of magnetism that occurs only in the presence of an externally applied magnetic field. Paramagnetic materials are attracted to magnetic fields and hence have a relative magnetic permeability of ≥1 (a positive magnetic susceptibility). The magnetic moment induced by the applied field is linear in the field strength and rather weak. It typically requires a sensitive analytical balance to detect the effect and modern measurements on paramagnetic materials are often conducted with a SQUID magnetometer.

Unlike ferromagnets, paramagnets do not retain any magnetization in the absence of an externally applied magnetic field, because thermal motion causes the spins to become randomly oriented without it. Thus the total magnetization will drop to zero when the applied field is removed. Even in the presence of the field there is only a small induced magnetization because only a small fraction of the spins will be oriented by the field. This fraction is proportional to the field strength and this explains the linear dependency. The attraction experienced by ferromagnets is non-linear and much stronger, so that it is easily observed, for instance, in magnets on one's refrigerator.


Relation to electron spins

Constituent atoms or molecules of paramagnetic materials have permanent magnetic moments (dipoles), even in the absence of an applied field. This generally occurs due to the spin of unpaired electrons in the atomic/molecular electron orbitals (see Magnetic moment). In pure paramagnetism, the dipoles do not interact with one another and are randomly oriented in the absence of an external field due to thermal agitation, resulting in zero net magnetic moment. When a magnetic field is applied, the dipoles will tend to align with the applied field, resulting in a net magnetic moment in the direction of the applied field. In the classical description, this alignment can be understood to occur due to a torque being provided on the magnetic moments by an applied field, which tries to align the dipoles parallel to the applied field. However, the true origins of the alignment can only be understood via the quantum-mechanical properties of spin and angular momentum.

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