How to Learn about the Science and the Hobby of Metal Detecting?

By Michael Bernzweig

A hobby is most rewarding when it’s both enjoyable and a learning experience. This is especially true of metal detecting: every hobbyist takes on the persona of a scientist throughout their hunts in the field. Treasure hunting offers the opportunity to learn about soil types, biology, physics, electronics and the weather. No matter how you viewed science before picking up a metal detector, you will learn to love it—because science most certainly assists in finding treasure. Kids getting started with a metal detector will often ask, “How do coins get buried in the ground?” Science helps to answer this question. In a relatively short period of time, a coin gets covered by decaying leaves, grass and twigs, wind carrying dust and flowing water. Earthworms also bury fallen objects with the soil. Biologists say that worms eat their way through soil. At the same time, worms excrete digested soil which can easily cover a coin. This process can bury objects in the soil at a rate of 1 centimeter each year. Gravity and cracks in the soil also play a role in how deep a coin comes to rest.


The first thing you’ll learn when detecting is the soil type in your region. It may be sandy, loamy, hard-packed clay or highly mineralized gravel. Each state in the U.S. has an official state soil. You can check the library or the internet to learn about your soil type and its qualities. The soil affects your digging and detector settings. While in the field, you’ll be tracking where erosion occurs, where sedimentation has transformed soil, minerals and particles and where salt deposits are interfering with your metal detector signals. Geology plays a big role when prospecting for gold. Gold often occurs where there is also quartz, so it’s important to find out where quartz deposits are. If you are interested in gold prospecting, be sure to check out related articles in our Learning Library: “What’s The Best Gold Prospecting Metal Detector?”


Biology is the study of life and all living organisms- from trees and plants to bugs, birds and larger animals. Each time you dig for treasure, you will come across insects like ants, slugs and snails, worms, cocoons and germinating seeds. While hunting, you will start to learn about tree types, vegetation and birds. One of the most rewarding aspects of treasure hunting is getting the chance to become one with nature and see all of the wildlife. It is interesting to note that many of the digging tools used for metal detecting can also be used for gardening. Be sure to read our article entitled “What are the Best Digging Trowels and Shovels for Metal Detecting?” for more details.


Electromagnetism, electronics and physics are all part of understanding how your metal detector works. When operating your detector, you will see how an electromagnetic field interacts with both the ground and coins or other metal objects. You will begin to understand how different search coil types work as well as different wave patterns and VLF (Very Low Frequency) radio frequencies. Here is an example: if you drop a penny, nickel and dime on a table, each one has a distinctive ‘clank’ as it bounces of the surface. The same type of thing happens electronically when a coin is hit with radio frequency radiation. Each coin produces a specific electronic signature which the detector recognizes. Other items like pull tabs and bottle caps have their own unique responses, as well. An understanding of electronics and physics will teach you how discrimination works to distinguish junk from valuable metal treasure. Kids find metal detecting fascinating and can learn quite a bit by getting involved in the hobby. Be sure to read our related article entitled “Best Kids Metal Detectors” for more details on getting your youngster involved!


Many metal detectorists become extremely knowledgeable about cloud types and which cloud formations forecast rain. There are also affordable weather kits you can buy that display temperature, wind speed, relative humidity and barometric pressure. Knowing what the weather will be strongly dictates what you should wear and how long you can treasure hunt. At the very least, you will probably find yourself watching the weather channel more often!

Metal Detectors that are Perfect for Beginners

For beginners and kids getting started in the hobby, there are lightweight metal detectors designed for ease of use (turn-on-and-go operation). Be sure to read our related article entitled “What are the Best Beginners Metal Detectors?” for complete details. Keep in mind, because these are professional detectors and not toy models, the new hobbyist will still enjoy advanced features and technology without complicated adjustments. Once you have a bit of experience metal detecting in the field, you may decide to upgrade or purchase a detector specifically suited for finding gold, underwater use, etc. The models listed below are great detectors for beginners ranging from entry-level to higher end units:

Check out “My Metal Detecting Finds” Stories

Ordinary people. Amazing Finds. If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out the “My Metal Detecting Finds” section of our web site. These are real stories about exciting treasure hunting finds throughout the world. Most of these discoveries have occurred within the past few months or years. Some people attribute great finds to luck—being at the right place at the right time. And others say that experience help a detectorist uncover gold nuggets, treasure caches and hoards. Here’s a story about beginner’s luck: First Ring. Guillermo found a men’s gold ring on his fourth time out with his metal detector!

© 2014 Detector Electronics Corp. - Revised November 2021