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Get Magnetic with These 4 at-Home Experiments

Get Magnetic with These 4 at-Home Experiments

What exactly makes a magnet stick to some metals and why don't they stick to others? Why do they attract or repel each other depending on their positioning? Magnetism can seem like magic to young scientists, which makes it one of the most fun topics for at-home experiments. Explore the mysteriousness of magnets at home with these four experiments. You may even have what you need right at home!

Pro tip: Help your students to visualize the principles of magnetism with hBARSCI’s unique hands-on demonstration kits. We also carry the largest selection of individual magnets you'll find anywhere, in all configurations, sizes and strengths. Be sure to read our blog article 5 Magnet Activities for Middle School Students for even more great ideas!

Get Outside! Magnets in Your Environment

A magnet is a material or object that produces a magnetic field. Although a magnetic field is invisible, it is responsible for the observable force that pulls on other ferromagnetic materials (substances with an abnormally high magnetic permeability)—such as iron, steel, and nickel—and attracts or repels other magnets. 

Testing items in our environment that are magnetic is a fun way to identify everyday items with this property—and some surprising items without it! For this “experiment,” simply snag a magnet—either from your fridge, or a bar magnet like this—and head outside to your nearest playground (or just go for a jaunt around your own neighborhood!). Bring along a notepad, and keep track of what you test. Before you test each item, note whether or not you think it’ll be attracted to the magnet. Were you right? Are some items more magnetic than others? Why might that be?

Make Magnetic Slime

We’ve all played with bar- and horseshoe-shaped magnets, but have you ever played with magnetic slime? You can make your own at home easily!

Supplies: glue (like Elmer’s liquid school glue), liquid starch (can be purchased in the laundry aisle of your local supermarket), iron filings or magnetic powder, and a neodymium magnet (note: a regular magnet won’t be strong enough).

Steps:

  1. Add about five ounces of the glue to a mixing bowl.

  2. Stir in about three tablespoons of the iron filing or magic powder.

  3. Slowly mix in liquid starch (about two or three ounces) until the desired consistency of slime is reached. Once the desired consistency is reached, remove the slime and knead it with your hands.

Now you can use the neodymium magnet to attract the slime! Explore how the magnet attracts the slime depending on how far from the slime you hold it. If you set the magnet in the slime, what happens?

Easy Build-Your-Own Electromagnet

Electromagnetism is a fundamental force in nature consisting of the interaction of electrically charged particles and uncharged magnetic force fields with electrical conductors, which creates electromagnetic fields. Electromagnets can be turned on and off when the electricity is turned on and off. Uses of electromagnets in everyday life include those in cranes that pick up scrap metal in junkyards; those in high-speed trains, called Maglev trains, which float over their tracks, reducing friction and allowing the train to run very efficiently; and roller coasters, which use electromagnets to push the cars along the tracks.

You can make your own simple electromagnet by wrapping a wire around an iron nail and running current through the wire. The electric field in the wire coil creates a magnetic field around the nail. In some cases, the nail will remain magnetized even when removed from within the wire coil.

Supplies: Thin gauge, coated copper wire; long nail; sandpaper; D size battery; paperclips; tape

Steps:

  1. Sand about a half inch the coating off both ends of the copper wire.

  2. Wind the wire around the nail as many times as you can, leaving the ends free.

  3. Tape the ends of the wire to the battery.

Note: Electricity will now be running through the coil and nail. It will get hot and may burn if touched. Use a pen to push the magnet off the battery and let the coil cool before adjusting the set-up or dismantling.

  1. See how many paperclips your magnetized nail can pick up.

  2. Experiment with your equipment, changing one thing at a time to make your electromagnet pick up as many paperclips as it can. (You may have to ask your teacher for more equipment).

Suggestions for more science: Try changing the number of wire coils, how tight the coils are around the nail, the strength of the battery, the type of wire, the gauge of wire, the type of nail,or the size of the nail.

See another method for building an electromagnet in a previous hBARSCI blog post here!

Floating Needle Compass Experiment

In this experiment, you can make a compass out of a needle while learning about the concepts of magnetism, magnetic poles, and the Earth’s magnetic field.

Supplies: water, sewing needle, magnet, sturdy paper (enough to cut out a circle two inches in diameter), scissors, tape, shallow dish, compass (optional)

Steps:

  1. Use the scissors to cut a circle out of the piece of paper. The circle should be approximately 2 inches in diameter.

  2. Tape the sewing needle in the middle of the circle.

  3. Fill the shallow dish with water. 

  4. Use a magnet and rub it along the needle in the same direction about 20 times.

  5. Slowly place the piece of paper into the water. It will float along the top. Watch as the circle begins to spin around until the needle is pointing in the direction of north, just like a compass. Use the compass if you have it to validate the needle's direction.

Why does this work? Rubbing the needle with the magnet causes the needle to become temporarily magnetized. Once magnetized, the needle has a north and a south pole and therefore interacts with Earth’s magnetic field.

How do the paper and water help facilitate your magnetic needle? When the paper is placed in the water, it floats on the surface of the water and is able to move freely. At that point, the magnetized needle causes the paper to spin around until the north and south poles of the needle fall in line with Earth’s magnetic field.

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