When you’re teaching your kids about science, nothing makes it come alive more than getting them to actually do it themselves.
Designing experiments and projects they can do at home makes everything they’re learning far more memorable and will make them enthusiastic to learn even more.
Building an electromagnet might sound far too difficult to do at home. Perhaps you’d never even thought it was possible before, or that it would be too dangerous. But it is, and it’s not actually difficult or dangerous at all! Read on to find out how to light up your kid’s world with a homemade electromagnet.
The Science Behind Electromagnets
The first thing to understand is that electricity and magnetism are not separate forces. They’re actually two parts of the same thing: electromagnetism. They both result from the movement of electrons. An electromagnet is just a magnet that is created by an electric current, meaning that it can be turned on and off at will.
The electromagnet we’re going to make is a wire attached to a small battery and wrapped around a nail. The electrical current flowing through the wire creates a magnetic field, which is made stronger by the iron nail.
Larger electromagnets are widely used in all kinds of machines and processes, from electricity generators to MRI machines, to magnetic separation devices.
Building An Electromagnet
To build your own electromagnet, you will need:
- A piece of thin, copper-coated wire
- Some sandpaper
- A nail
- Some paperclips
- Some tape
- A size D battery
The first step is to use the sandpaper to remove the coating at each end of the copper wire. After that’s done, wrap the wire around the nail as tightly as you can, leaving some free at the ends. Then attach these ends to the battery with the tape.
Safety Warning: Note that at this stage, electricity will be running through the wire and the nail. The electricity from a size D battery isn’t enough to hurt a person, but it will make the wire and nail hot to the touch.
When you want to stop using the electromagnet, it would be safest to use an object like a pencil to remove the wire from the battery or wait until it’s cooled down first.
Using The Electromagnet
You should now have a fully functioning electromagnet! Try to use it to pick up the paperclips. How many can you pick up? You can also try changing various things about the way the electromagnet is constructed to see how it affects its power.
You could try changing how tightly the wire is wrapped around the nail, the number of wires used, the size of the nail, the strength of the battery, and lots more! Get your kid to make notes of the differences and rank the different setups.
Then you can get them to see if they can work out why some work better than others. You can also switch off the power to show that the wire can no longer pick up any paperclips. This is a good moment to reinforce that it gets its power from electricity and that this is what makes it different from a regular magnet.
Another thing you can do is change the polarity of the magnet. This is easy – just remove the ends of the wire from the battery and reattach them to the opposite ends of the battery.
Get your kid to try picking up the paperclips with the magnet again, and they should notice that one end of the magnet now repels them when it attracted them before. Ask them if they know why. This is a great opportunity to teach them about polarity. If you have a regular magnet, you can compare it to the electromagnet.
It’s great fun to do projects and experiments with your kids to help them learn, and now you’ve seen that building an electromagnet is nothing difficult or dangerous. With any luck, this will fire their imaginations and enthusiasm to keep learning about the sciences behind the world around them.