New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg unexpectedly had to answer a physics question during a radio talk show. The question was sent via Twitter and read "Magnets: how do they work?"
Of course, that was a rather odd question to ask to a Mayor of the largest US city. Still, Bloomberg took on the question and provided a credible answer.
"Now why they're asking the mayor that…," said a laughing Bloomberg before he touted that he had once been an electrical engineering student and insisted on answering the question.
"Everything is made of atoms," Hizzoner said, striking a scholarly tone. "Atoms have electrons, usually in pairs orbiting around them, and they create mini-magnetic fields."
"But the two electrons spin in orbit \[and\] the pairs spin in opposite directions, so they cancel out each other," he continued. "But magnetic materials aren't in pairs, so the spins don't cancel out each other, and if there's enough of them, you create magnetic fields."
That really isn't bad at all! I doubt that the majority of the public would be able to answer that, much less, politicians in general (I'm counting Congressman Rush Holt out of that one).
But of course, those of us who study these things (such as those in condensed matter/solid state physics), would say that the answer only provides the premise on why certain atoms have a net magnetic moment. It doesn't explain how the BULK material become magnetized, i.e. how does the collective behavior of each of the magnetic moments behave, producing materials that are ferromagnet, antiferromagnet, etc. Still, the mayor provided a very understandable and good answer to such a question, and did it on the spot as well! I'm quite impressed!