How can I build an electromagnet that moves paperclips?

Format
Subjects

How does this align with my curriculum?

Design and build an electromagnet which can carry paperclips over a distance of one metre.

How can I build an electromagnet that moves paperclips?

What You Need

  • 1 iron nail
  • 1 metre of copper wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire strippers, if your wire is insulated
  • 1 D-cell battery
  • Masking tape
  • 1 box of paperclips
  • 1 Measuring tape

Safety First
Never use batteries that are leaking fluid, or that look crusty.

What To Do

  • If the wire is covered in an insulating coating, strip about 1 cm of the coating from each end of the wire

Safety First
You may need adult help to use wire strippers and wire cutters.

  • Wrap most of the wire around the nail, leaving about 3 cm free on each end
  • Connect the free ends of the wire the terminals on the battery and tape them down
  • Use your new electromagnet to pick up some paper clips
  • See how far you can carry the paper clips
  • Measure the distance 
electromagnet made from wire a nail and a battery
Basic electromagnet setup (Source: haryigit via iStockphoto).
  • For this challenge:
    • All parts of your electromagnet must be attached to each other
    • You can’t touch the paper clips as you carry them
    • You can only use magnetism to carry the paper clips, not tape or a box
  • You are successful when 
    • you have created a magnet using electricity 
    • your electromagnet can carry paperclips a distance of one metre

If you get stuck, watch this YouTube video, or do a Google Search for “how to make an electromagnet.”

What’s happening?

Magnets are surrounded by magnetic fields. Magnetic fields are forces that can attract or repel materials. Many magnets have a north pole at one end and a south pole at the other end. The north pole is attracted to the south pole and this creates the magnetic field. 

You can also create a magnetic field by running electric current through materials like copper wire. This is called an electromagnet. Unlike regular magnets, electromagnets can be switched on and off. Also, you can change the strength of an electromagnet by increasing or decreasing the flow of electricity. 

What’s happening?

Magnets are surrounded by magnetic fields. Magnetic fields are forces that can attract or repel materials. Many magnets have a north pole at one end and a south pole at the other end. The north pole is attracted to the south pole and this creates the magnetic field. 

You can also create a magnetic field by running electric current through materials like copper wire. This is called an electromagnet. Unlike regular magnets, electromagnets can be switched on and off. Also, you can change the strength of an electromagnet by increasing or decreasing the flow of electricity. 

Why does it matter?

Electromagnets are an important part of many electrical devices. Electromagnets are used in motors, refrigerators, doorbells, computers, clocks, fans and speakers. In all these things, electric current flows through wires to create a magnetic field. This force is what makes all these devices work. 

People working in many different careers, like electrical engineers, computer scientists and car mechanics, need to have a good understanding of electromagnets because they’re used in so many applications. 

Why does it matter?

Electromagnets are an important part of many electrical devices. Electromagnets are used in motors, refrigerators, doorbells, computers, clocks, fans and speakers. In all these things, electric current flows through wires to create a magnetic field. This force is what makes all these devices work. 

People working in many different careers, like electrical engineers, computer scientists and car mechanics, need to have a good understanding of electromagnets because they’re used in so many applications. 

Investigate Further

  • Can you carry the same number of paperclips 1.5 metres or 2 metres? If not, how can you adjust your electromagnet to do this?
  • Do the challenge as a race. How many paperclips can you carry over one metre in one minute?
  • Experiment with your equipment. Change one thing at a time to make your electromagnet pick up as many paperclips as possible. Try changing: 
    • the number of wire coils 
    • how tight the coils are around the nail
    • the size of the battery 
    • the type of wire
    • the gauge of wire
    • the type of nail
    • the size of nail

Investigate Further

  • Can you carry the same number of paperclips 1.5 metres or 2 metres? If not, how can you adjust your electromagnet to do this?
  • Do the challenge as a race. How many paperclips can you carry over one metre in one minute?
  • Experiment with your equipment. Change one thing at a time to make your electromagnet pick up as many paperclips as possible. Try changing: 
    • the number of wire coils 
    • how tight the coils are around the nail
    • the size of the battery 
    • the type of wire
    • the gauge of wire
    • the type of nail
    • the size of nail