Introduction: Simple Electromagnet

As part of our Energy Unit in fourth grade we build these electromagnets.

We have at least two companies in town that use electromagnets. MetalX sent us some pictures that show the electromagnet in action!

Below are standards met by this activity.

-Heat, electrical energy, light, sound and magnetic energy are forms of energy. (3)

-Energy can be transformed from one form to another or can be transferred from one location to another. (4)

-Electricity and magnetism are closely related. (4)

-Electricity is related to magnetism. In some circumstances, magnetic fields can produce electrical currents in conductors. Electric currents produce magnetic fields. Electromagnets are temporary magnets that lose their magnetism when the electric current is turned off. Building an electromagnet to investigate magnetic properties and fields can demonstrate this concept. (8)

Step 1: Materials

For this activity each student or group of students will need

-Magnet wire, or other thin wire


-AA Battery

-Electrical Tape (not shown)

-Metal Paper Clips or Pins


Step 2: Cut and Sand

Cut a foot long piece of wire and sand 1/2 inch of the insulation off the ends.

Step 3: Wrap

Wrap the wire tightly around the nail.

Step 4: OUCH!

Do NOT hold the wire to the battery with just your finger tips. Although burning your finger tips is a memorable experience that demonstrates transfer of energy (chemical, to electrical, to thermal), it hurts! Don't do it.

Use a bit of electrical tape to cover the connection between the wire and the battery. Still be careful, without a load, the wire can still get hot.

"An electrical load is an electrical component or portion of a circuit that consumes (active) electric power.[1][2] This is opposed to a power source, such as a battery or generator, which produces power.[2] In electric power circuits examples of loads are appliances and lights. The term may also refer to the power consumed by a circuit."

Step 5: Pick Up and Drop

Test your electromagnet. Connect the end of the wire, one to the positive and one to the negative ends of the battery.

Now move the coiled wire and nail over the paperclips / pins. The nail becomes a magnet! You have just made an electromagnet just like the one used at MetalX. To drop the paper clips / pins, simply let go of one side of the wire/battery connection.

See how many paper clips you can pick up. Challenge a friend.

We have students work in pairs and have a little competition to see which group can pick up the most paperclips. We also have the students move the paperclips from one side of the room to the other. Using the electromagnet the students have to pick up and drop the paperclips. No hands can touch the clips.

Step 6: Video

Here is a video we made of another way to make the electromagnet.

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