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Maggie sure puts the FUN in the four FUNdamental forces. This project is a great introduction to electromagnetism, the force that not only helps pick up squished cars in junkyard wars, but is also responsible for a lot of the properties of matter in everyday life.

Get enough electrons flowing via your battery, and all of the sudden you've turned your nail in to a magnet. There's nothing that Maggie can't handle! (except for all non-ferric things)

  • What: Your First Electromagnet
  • Concepts: electromagnetism, current, electrons, forces, ferrous objects
  • Time: ~ 10 minutes
  • Cost: ~ $0.30
  • Materials:
    • Cork (wood or plastic)
    • Battery (any will do, C or D work great)
    • Tape
    • Nail
    • Magnet Wire
    • Aluminum foil
    • Stuff for Maggie to pick up
    • Googly Eyes (optional)
  • Tools
    • Sandpaper
    • Wire Cutters
    • Hot glue gun / hot glue (optional)

Let's Magnetize!

Step 1: Material Gathering!

Most of these things can be found most places. Any 1.5V battery will do, and aluminum foil from your kitchen or school cafeteria will work out dandy. The magnet wire may be the trickiest, but any electronic supply will have it.

Also, gather some thing for Maggie to pick up (paper clips, staples, bottle caps, etc)!

Step 2: Cork, Battery, and Nail

Start with making a miniature post-modern sculpture. Tape your battery to your cork, and stick the nail in the cork. Your battery can be in either orientation, and Maggie will still work!

Step 3: Magnet Wire Prep

Roll out about 3 feet of magnet wire, and snip it off. You're going to sand the coating just about an inch off each end, but not all the way. You should be able to see the color change if you do it right.

Step 4: Foil, Wire, and Foil Again

Make a foil sandwich all around one wire end, and tape it permanently to the bottom of your battery. Proceed to wrap the rest of the wire around the nail, leaving a couple inches free as a switch. Mush some more foil around the other end, and leave un-attached so that you can turn your electro-magnet on and off.

What you are creating is a miniature solenoid, which when you pass electricity through, will create a magnetic field oriented perpendicular to the coils of wire (up and down your nail). The strength of the magnet is directly related to how many loops you have around the nail, so go big on it!

There is a great write-up about electromagnets here.

Step 5: Stick to It, Maggie!

To flip on the magnet, just hold the floating foil bunch to the top of your battery. When you want to flip the magnet off, just release. The nail will often remain magnetic even then until it connects with a ground.

Maggie can search around the house or classroom to find ferrous objects. She can pick up paper clips, staples, bottle caps. She can re-orient compasses, and when she's feeling particularly tricksy, she can even erase credit cards! (don't do this one unless you're trying to shake a shopping habit).

Play tons, but let this just be the start of your electromagnetic career. All things are ruled by this force, but people have figured out how to rule back a little bit, using it for many machines, including power tools, speakers, doorbells, motors, and more. As always, keep exploring.

Hope you find this electrifying!

<p>This is clever. I particularly like the googly eyes.</p><p>Most people don't know that if you reverse the current through an electromagnet, you reverse it's polarity. It is a good way to explain the difference between north and south magentism. </p>
<p>Yes, Jobar! I was just thinking that about polarity in writing the 'ible. I tested out reversing the polarity on the battery to see if I could attract and repel a ceramic disc magnet. Interestingly, even the disc magnet was more powerful enough that it attracted the nail as a ferrous object either way. I'll have to experiment with power sources and coil wraps to see if I can make this easy to show. Thank you much for the comment. </p>
<p>It is really easy to see the polarity reversal with the compass you've shown above. With the magnet, I would think that you would have to be as powerful or more powerful on the magnetism (o the disc) in order overcome it's attraction to the nail. Don't quote me on that one though.</p>
This is an excellent write up and display for kids and adults alike! I'll be sharing this one with my boys. Although, it may mean I'll have a junkyard magnetic crane in my back yard by next week. I reckon I'll set it next to the trebuchet. ;-)
<p>Haha, wonderful! Can't wait to see you turn this wee project into epic scale. </p>
Cool for kids, i like it :)

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Bio: The Oakland Toy Lab is a community-based wonder lab for students to build, tinker, explore, make, break, and learn! We are writing up engaging science ... More »
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