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Electromagnets Lesson for Kids: Definition, Facts & Uses

Instructor: Tammie Mihet

Tammie has taught elementary school for 14 yrs. and holds an MA in Instructional Technology

You have probably used a regular magnet many times before, but have you ever seen an electromagnet in action? Do you know what makes it work? In this lesson, discover the world of electromagnets.

Floating Trains!

It's a super plane, no it's a speeding car, no it's a...floating train. What? You read that right, it is known as a maglev train and it can go at speeds of over 250 miles per hour as it floats above the track, never touching the rails while in motion! How is this amazing feat possible? Through the use of powerful electromagnets.

Maglev Train
Maglev Train

Making Electromagnets

An electromagnet is a magnet that uses electricity to power it. What is so cool about this type of magnet is that you can turn the magnet on and off! To learn how this is possible, let's take a look at how these magnets are made. It is actually a very simple process, but to understand it you have to remember that magnets are pieces of metal, like iron, that have the ability to attract other metals.

First, a piece of iron, such as a rod of iron or even a nail, is wrapped in a strand of copper wire. Then, using a battery or other device, electricity is run through the copper wire and, guess what, you have an electromagnet! The electricity running through the wire magnetizes the iron bar, which means that it makes it attract other metals.

Electromagnet
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Make the Magnet Stronger

Remember, what makes an electromagnet so different from regular magnets is that you can shut off the electromagnet. Stop the electric current running through the copper wire and you've just got a chunk of iron with no magnetic properties. If we can turn the magnet off and on, can we also make it stronger or weaker?

There are two main ways that the strength of an electromagnet can be changed. One way is to simply increase the amount of electricity running through the wire. Doing this will make the electric current stronger, hence making the magnet stronger. A second way is to wrap the copper wire even tighter around the iron, making less space between the coils and therefore more turns around the iron. This will increase the amount of electricity running over the iron and make the magnetic power stronger.

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