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Magnetism iconMagnetism
Hands-On Activities
Check out our Magnetism CD-ROM which includes similar activities.
Make a Magnet
An activity you can use in the classroom

Background
In 1820, Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted discovered that a compass was affected when a current flowed through a nearby wire. Not long after that, André Marie Ampëre discovered that coiled wire acted like a bar magnet when a current was passed through it. He also found that he could turn an iron rod into a temporary bar magnet when he coiled electric wire around the rod. In 1831, Michael Faraday proved that magnetism and electricity are related. He showed that when a bar magnet was placed within a wire coil, the magnet produced an electric current. In this activity, you are going to use electricity to turn a nail into an electromagnet.

What You Need

  • 4-inch iron or steel nail
  • 24-inch piece of thin-gauge wire with 1-inch of insulation removed from each end
  • D-cell flashlight battery
  • 10 steel paperclips
What To Do
  1. Is the nail magnetic? See if you can use it to pick up the paper clips. Write your observations on the attached worksheet.
  2. Wrap the center portion of the wire around the nail 10 times so that it forms a coil. You should have extra wire at both ends.
  3. Attach one end of the wire to the (+) terminal of the battery. Then, attach the other end of the wire to the (-) terminal.
  4. Is the electrified nail magnetic? Bring the end of it close to the paper clips, making sure that the wires stay attached to the battery. Write your observations on the worksheet.
  5. Repeat steps 2 - 4, but this time wind the wire around the nail 20 times. Record your observations on the worksheet.
  6. Repeat steps 2 - 4, but this time wind the wire around the nail 30 times. Record your observations on the worksheet.
  7. Answer the remaining questions on the worksheet.