#FunFriday – exploring Magnets

What is a Magnet?


A magnet is an object that can produce a magnetic force around it called a “magnetic field”.  Magnets attract certain types of metals such as iron, nickel and cobalt.


Let’s learn more!


A magnetic field is not visible to the human eye, however iron filings can be used to show the pattern of a magnetic field. The magnetic field around all magnets is strongest at it‛s ends – these ends are called the Poles. One end is called the North Pole and the other is called the South Pole, just like the Earth.

If you put the poles of two magnets together they will either pull together (attract) or push apart (repel); Different poles attract (North and South), similar poles repel!

photo credit: daynoir via photopin cc
photo credit: daynoir via photopin cc

Did you know… small iron rocks on the Earth‛s surface are often natural magnets and these are called Lodestones.

The Earth as a magnet


The Earth is one big magnet – it‛s magnetic field is created by the iron that is in the core of the Earth. The Earth‛s magnetic field is strongest at the North Pole and the South Pole.

photo credit: *~Dawn~* via photopin cc
photo credit: *~Dawn~* via photopin cc
Did you know… many objects is space are magnetic including the Sun!

photo credit: Najwa Marafie - Free Photographer via photopin cc
photo credit: Najwa Marafie – Free Photographer via photopin cc


Did you know… the Earth‛s magnetic field deflects charged particles that come from the sun (Solar Wind) and this creates the wonderful lights called AURORA that can sometimes be seen in the sky.

Magnetic compasses use the Earth‛s magnetic field to determine North, South East and West.




An electromagnet is a magnet that is produced when an electric current is passed around a piece of iron.  Unlike true magnets, electromagnets are only magnetic while the electric current is switched on!

Did you know… the first person to notice that electric currents produce magnetism was a Danish scientist called Hans Christian Oersted, in 1820.
Some countries have started to use high speed trains called “MagLev” trains that are operated by powerful electromagnets.
photo credit: Erwyn van der Meer via photopin cc
photo credit: Erwyn van der Meer via photopin cc


These wheel less trains float on magnetic tracks and can reach speeds of more than 500 km/h.

Two experiments to try at home:

Make a compass:

You will need… a circle of paper, a needle, a magnet and a bowl of water.
What to do… thread the needle through the circle of paper so that nearly all the needle lies on one side of the paper (see below). Stroke the needle 30 times in one direction with one end of a strong magnet.  Lift the magnet between strokes. Float the circle of paper on top of the water in the bowl (needle side up).  The paper should spin around slowly for a few moments and then stop.  The needle should now be pointing North-South.  You can confirm this with a compass if you wish!
So what is happening? The needle contains little particles of iron that are all jumbled up.  When the needle is stroked with the magnet it makes all the iron particles align in the same direction (North-South); the needle is temporarily magnetised!

Make an electromagnet:

You will need.. 1 metre of thin insulated wire, a large iron nail, blue tac, a 1.5 volt battery, paper clips;
What to do… wind the insulated wire tightly around the nail at least 30 times then ask an adult to strip back the insulation from both ends of the wire, exposing about 2 cm of the wire beneath.  Using the blue tac stick one end of the wire to the + side of the battery and the other end to the – end.  Now see if your electromagnet can pick up some paperclips.  If you disconnect the batter the paperclips should fall!!
photo credit: Steve Wilhelm via photopin cc
photo credit: Steve Wilhelm via photopin cc



So what is happening? When the wire is attached to the battery it creates an electric current that runs through the wire, temporarily magnetising the iron particles in the nail. When the battery is disconnected the nail no longer acts as a magnet!


Hope you have fun with these this weekend!  If you have a question or something to add please drop me a note in the comments below!


Science blogger and writer; Owner of Dr. How's Science Wows; Mother of three junior scientists who have taught me that to be a great scientist you need to look at life through the eyes of a child!

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