Electromagnet Science Fair Project

Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this project, you'll be learning about electromagnetic induction. Here, we'll use the current supplied in a circuit to turn a regular nail into an electromagnet. By the end, you'll be able to demonstrate the relationship between current and an induced magnetic field.

Introduction

Goal: To make a magnet using electricity and a nail
Age: Middle school and up
Time to complete: One hour
Safety Concerns: When creating the circuit, the battery and wire will get hot and can even burn you. Take precautions: only hold the plastic holder of the battery and disconnect the circuit if it gets too hot

Right now, you're using electricity to read this lesson. Where does it come from? You might say the power plant, but where does the power plant get it? The answer is electromagnetic induction, or the process of using magnetic force to generate electricity. In power plants, the energy from burning fossil fuels is used to rotate a turbine that turns massive coils of wire. The coils rotate inside a magnet. The magnetic field causes electrons to move inside the wire, creating a current that generates electricity.

Electromangetic induction is used to make electricity in power plants
electromagnetic induction

Although we won't be making our very own power plant today, we will study the process in reverse. You can use the electric force inside a circuit to make a magnet from a piece of metal using electromagnetic induction too. The more current passing through the wire, the stronger the magnet will be. We call this type of magnet an electromagnet because it is generated from electricity.

To build our electromagnet, we'll wrap a wire around a nail and connect it to a battery to make a complete circuit. The nail should become magnetized due to electromagnetic induction. If it works, your nail should be able to pick up other metal objects. We're also going to test how more current affects the magnet's strength by using more or less coils of wire. To measure the strength of the magnetic field, we'll count how many paperclips our nails are able to hold during the electromagnetic induction.

A nail can be converted to a magnet through electromagnetic induction
electromagnet

Materials

  • One nail, at least three inches long
  • One spool of thin copper wire
  • One box of paperclips
  • One 1.5 volt battery and plastic holder
  • A data table as shown below

Number of coils Paperclips picked up
25
50
75

Steps

1. Take your wire and wrap it around your nail 25 times. You'll need to wrap it neatly and leave as much room as you can on either end because the paperclips will only stick to the nail, not the wire. The wire should be wrapped tightly so it stays on the nail.

Safety Tip: When the circuit is complete the battery and wire will get very hot if left connected. Quickly conduct your experiment, only hold the plastic holder of the battery, and disconnect if the circuit gets too hot.

2. Connect the wire to the battery to form a complete circuit. This will allow electricity to flow through the wire.

3. Next test your nail as a magnet. Measure how many paperclips the nail can hold by gently placing one paperclip at a time on the nail. Only the exposed nail (not covered in wire) will act as a magnet. Attach your paperclips to the ends not covered in wire. Record your results in your data table.

4. Repeat steps 1-3 using 50, then 75 coils of wire.

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