Schools out for summer, meaning you’ve the task of keeping your kids active and entertained for 8 whole weeks. Magnets can do some incredible things, like accelerate a train at speeds over 300 mph (see our blog) or power an MRI to look through the human body (we also have a blog on this). However, sometimes it’s just fun to conduct experiments with them. It can be hard to find activities for the kids to do that are both educational and fun, so we’ve decided to share some of our favourite DIY magnet experiments to keep your kids (and you) entertained.
When participating in these experiments, it’s important to follow proper safety measures. You must keep in mind a few critical points:
- Neodymium magnets must be handled with care to avoid personal injury as well as damage to the magnets.
- Fingers and other body parts can get severely pinched between two attracting magnets, and bones can be broken by larger magnets.
- Children should not be allowed to play with neodymium magnets, they can be dangerous with small magnets posing a choking hazard.
- Magnets should never be swallowed or inserted into any part of the body.
1.Make magnetic silly putty
Magnetic putty has the same spongy texture as silly putty but reacts with magnets in striking ways. You can make your own magnetic putty with this simple and quick tutorial. This experiment uses iron oxide powder; therefore, it must be carried out by an adult.
What you’ll need
- Neodymium magnets
- Iron oxide powder (can find at most art supply stores)
- Face mask
- Newspaper or plastic
- Disposable gloves
- Open the putty and warm it by rolling it around in your hands for a few minutes until it’s stretchy.
- In a well-ventilated area, put down your newspaper or plastic to protect surfaces from staining.
- Roll the putty out into a flat round shape.
- Put on your gloves and face mask and open the iron oxide powder container. Working with iron oxide powder can produce dust that should not be inhaled or ingested in any way, so it is crucial that you wear protective gear.
- Add a teaspoon of iron oxide powder in the centre of the flattened putty.
- Once finished, seal the iron oxide powder container to prevent any excess dust emission.
- Fold over the putty to cover the iron and begin to knead and work the putty in your hands until the iron is completely dispersed within it. When the putty is completely black throughout, it’s ready.
Use a neodymium magnet and watch how the putty reacts. A couple of tricks that you can try are:
- Putty following a magnet – Thin the putty out by stretching it into a worm-like form and hold your magnet close to it. Move the magnet around and watch the putty follow it.
- Putty engulfing a magnet – Place a magnet next to the putty and watch as it is slowly swallows the magnet.
Click here to see magnetic putty in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXJuJQVrgbI
2. Build your own speaker
Being a key component of speakers and headphones, magnets convert the electrical energy into sound energy and transmit the sound energy through the “cone” of the speaker.
This experiment uses copper wire and a strong neodymium magnet to recreate the basic technology behind speakers. The wire will transmit electrical current, making the magnet vibrate to produce a sound. To amplify this sound, incorporate a cup into the design.
What You’ll Need
- 10mm x 2mm neodymium disc magnet
- Plastic cup
- Copper wire
- Bottle cap
- Auxiliary cord
- Wrap the copper wire around the disc magnet multiple times to create a coil. Start from the middle of the wire, and leave excess wire hanging off both sides of the magnet.
- Remove the magnet from the coil and tape the coil to the bottom of the cup.
- Use a bottle cap or another round object on hand to make a larger coil out of the excess wire hanging off your first coil. Once you’ve created your second coil, you should have about a foot of wire left on both sides. This extra wire will be used to attach your speaker to a music source. Tape the second coil on top of the first.
- Place the disc magnet on top of the two coils. It doesn’t have to touch all the wire for your speaker to work, just some places.
- Use an auxiliary cord that plugs into your radio, iPod, phone, or whatever source of music you’re using. Plug one end into the music source. On the other end, wrap one piece of the excess copper wire around the top and the other piece around the bottom.
- You can adjust the magnet strength to amplify the volume. Stronger disc magnets tend to work better.
3. Magnet spinning pen
With the simple use of some ring magnets, you’ll be able to create a magic spinning pen.
What you’ll need
- 3 small dowel rods (pencils work too)
- 4 ½ x ⅛ x ⅛ inch neodymium ring magnets
- A pen or pencil
- Hot glue gun
- Use a cup to cut a circle out of the cardboard. Then, use a smaller cup and trace another circle within it. Cut out the inner circle and set it aside.
- With the larger cardboard circle, arrange three ring magnets equally spaced out. You want them to repel each other, so make sure they don’t connect with each other.
- Hot glue the magnets to the cardboard, then poke holes through the cardboard where the holes of the magnets are (this is where the sticks will go through).
- Grab a square piece of cardboard to act as a base and attach the three pencils to it vertically with hot glue.
- Slide the cardboard ring with the attached magnets through the sticks, going about two inches down.
- Attach the fourth ring magnet to the bottom of the pen/pencil with tape. Place the pen inside the sticks and cardboard piece. The point is for the fourth magnet to be attracted to the other magnets so, you may have to swing the pen around a bit and adjust the height of the magnet until it connects to the other three.
- Add the scrapped centre of the cardboard ring to the base cardboard to catch any pen markings.
- Spin the pen and watch it twirl.
Click here to see the magnet spinning pen in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qu-eF00gp7k
How It Works
Magnets have both north and south poles. Opposite poles will attract each other and like poles will repel. When you placed the three magnets to repel each other, they created a magnetic field around themselves. Once the pencil/pen was placed inside the field, the repelling forces would bounce the object from magnet to magnet, allowing it to stand up.
This field has a strength and a direction, meaning, the magnetic field lines from each magnet come together towards the centre, creating an invisible high-pressure magnetic vortex. When the additional magnet is placed within this vortex, it creates motion, which is why the pen will spin.
4. Dancing magnet motor
With powerful magnets and copper wire, you can upcycle a battery while also learning about homopolar motors and the Lorentz force.
What you’ll need
- Small neodymium disc magnets
- 10-12” piece of copper wire
- One AA battery
- Wire cutters or pliers to bend the wire
- Place 3-disc magnets on the negative side of the battery. You can experiment with different sizes and strengths of magnets to see how it affects the speed of the motor. Stand the battery up using the rare earth magnets as a base.
- Next, take your copper wire and twist it into the shape of your dancer. You can use your pliers to bend the wire. Only use about half of the length of wire for the top of your dancer. You can shape the wire into a ballerina or similar shape just try to make it as symmetrical as possible.
- Now, use the second half of the wire to stretch the length of the battery and twist it so the bottom of the wire is coiled loosely around the magnets.
When you’re done, the copper wire should interact with the magnets and the battery like a motor. Your dancer should then spin around and around at the top of the motor. This “dancing” occurs because of the Lorentz force. In this experiment the electric current of the battery is perpendicular to the magnetic flux of the magnets, which results in the rotation of the dancer. The rotation of the dancer is a fun way to demonstrate the Lorentz force.
Click here to see the dancing magnet motor in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XilLC0uVCQ0
5. The levitating paperclip
The experiment is about as simple as it gets, and you can do it with everyday items.
What you’ll need
- Small neodymium magnets
- Cut a piece of thread about 4 to 5 inches long.
- Tie it to the end of a paperclip.
- Tape the other end of the thread to a stationary object like a desk or table.
- Take your strong magnet and place it above the paperclip. Since the paperclip is made of steel, which is a magnetic material, it will seem to reach up to make contact with the magnet.
- If it does touch the magnet, gently pull it away leaving it close to the paperclip but not touching. This is when the paperclip should seem like it is levitating or floating.
- As you move the magnet from side to side the paperclip will follow as if it is flying in the air.
6. Magnetic Painting
This messy yet amazing activity that will allow your kids to create fridge-worthy work.
What You’ll Need
- A shoebox
- Bar magnet
- Washable paint
- A piece of white paper
- Paper clip
- First, you’ll want to cut the piece of paper to fit in the bottom of the shoe box.
- Then, you’ll put a few drops of different coloured paint on top of the white paper.
- Slightly bend the paper clip and put it on top of the paper and paint.
- Finally, have your kid move the magnet underneath of the shoe box to move the paper clip around in the box.* This will spread the paint on the white paper, creating a unique piece of artwork.
Again, please note that these magnets are strong and put the user at risk of injury. Be sure to hold the magnet far enough away from the bottom of the shoe box so it doesn’t pinch any fingers.
Click here to see magnetic paining in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cczarst2jRE
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