Electromagnetism: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Michelle Vannoy

Michelle holds a M.S. in Science Education and a B.S. in Elementary Education. She has extensive teaching experience, and has taught middle school maths and sciences, as well as a variety of other subjects as an interim teacher.

Did you know that magnets produce a magnetic field? When you run an electrical current through this field you create an electromagnet. Why would you want to do this? What purpose would an electromagnet have? Read on to find out.

What is Electromagnetism?

Every magnetic material has a magnetic field. Magnetic fields are created when the poles are all lined up in the same direction. This invisible field acts as the magnetic force that pushes and pulls on an object. Magnetic fields and electrical fields are similar and can interact with each other; this interaction is known as electromagnetism.

Electromagnetism can cause a nail to act as a magnet. A nail by itself is definitely not a magnet. However, if you wrap a wire coil, called a solenoid, around a nail and then hook each end of the wire to the positive and negative sides of a battery, then the nail will act as an electromagnet. The more coils that the solenoid consists of, the stronger the electromagnet will be.

Electromagnet made with a nail

Can Anything Become a Magnet?

Not just any material can be used to create an electromagnet. A ferromagnetic material, a material that is naturally magnetic, has to be used. Nickel, cobalt, and iron are ferromagnetic materials. Any of these three materials, or a mixture of one of these materials and another material, can be used with a solenoid and a battery to make an electromagnet. One difference between a magnet and an electromagnet is that when the electricity is turned off to an electromagnet, it no longer is magnetic.

Cobalt is one example of a ferromagnetic material.

Why Use Electromagnets?

Electromagnets are very strong and have many uses in everyday life. For example, electromagnets are used in speakers to make sound. Electromagnets are also used in disc drives, generators, motors, and scrap yards.

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