Destroying Electronics With Electromagnets
By Micah McDunnigan
Weak electromagnets are useful for electronics, such as those you find in speakers and headsets, but strong electromagnets can damage electronic components because of the way the electronic devices use electric charges to operate and to store data. While it will not physically destroy the device, a strong electromagnet can render a piece of electronic equipment useless by stripping away the device's programming.
Electronics get their name because they function by storing electric charges in the form of electrons. These charges dictate the opening and closing of pathways for currents through circuits. Processors store and move charges between different transistors to run calculations and compare values. Disk-based hard drives use the presence or absence of an electronic charge on individual sectors of a spinning magnetic disk to store and retrieve files. The precise positioning of these charges is what electronics control.
Computers run programs, but programs also run computers. Programs regulate the opening and closing of circuit gateways and interpret the presence or absences of charges in transistors or other storage media. These hardware-level programs are stored as electrical charges, in the same way as files, on hard drives or memory chips attached to the device's circuit boards.
Electronics and Magnets
Magnets exude a magnetic charge: either positive or negative. Positive and negatives charges are attracted to one another, while positive charges will repel other positive charges and negative charges will repel other negative charges. The magnetic force in electromagnets has been amplified by an electrical current. When a sufficiently powerful electromagnet gets near a piece of electronic equipment, it will affect the electrons in the transistors and memory sectors of hard drives and memory modules.
When you expose a piece of electronic equipment to a powerful electromagnet, it can rip away the collections of electrons that constitute the programs which run the device's circuitry. Without the code for the program in the circuitry's storage, the device will be unable to function properly. While the physical circuitry will be intact after exposure to an electromagnet, the effect of the electromagnet will render the device useless. This makes electromagnetic exposure a popular method for deleting sensitive electronic data.
Micah McDunnigan has been writing on politics and technology since 2007. He has written technology pieces and political op-eds for a variety of student organizations and blogs. McDunnigan earned a Bachelor of Arts in international relations from the University of California, Davis.