Electromagnets

Time: 1 hour Goal: The goal of this lesson is to introduce students to electromagnets and how they are made. Students should also be familiar with how electromagnets are used in industrial and technological applications. Supplies • 1 iron nail for each group • About 5 feet of insulated wire (~22 gauge works decently well) • 1 D-cell battery • Some paper clips Introduction and Lesson (10-15 minutes) Ask students if they have ever played with magnets, and if so what they looked like. Students will probably mention bar or horseshoe magnets. Tell the students that these are the most well known types of magnets, but there is another way to create a magnet using electricity. For a long time (until about 1820), people thought that electricity (as in what powers your lights) and magnetism (as in refrigerator magnets) were separate forces. Make sure the students know what a force is. They might be familiar with newtonian forces (such as throwing a baseball-- you exert a force on the baseball when you throw it that causes it to move), but there are four different “fundamental” forces in nature: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak force. Ask if they have heard of any of these (they will almost certainly have heard of gravity), and tell them that today we will be talking about the electromagnetic force. The electromagnetic force combines both electricity and magnetism. What this means is that electricity (ie, electrons moving in a wire) can produce magnetic forces. (In reality, it is much more complicated, involving the idea of magnetic and electric fields, which are related through Maxwell's equations. But we will just focus on the idea that electricity can produce magnetic effects.) Ask the students if they have ever heard of an electromagnet. An electromagnet behaves just like a regular magnet (you may want to take a minute to ask them what sorts of things magnets do, such as attracting some kinds of metal), but is made using electricity. See if they can figure out why we call it an “electromagnet”.

Intro to activity (5 minutes) Ask the students if anyone knows how to make an electromagnet. An electromagnet is made by passing a current (ie, running electricity through) a coil of wire. You may want to draw a picture up on the board.

Tell them they are going to make an electromagnet out of wire, a battery, and a nail. They should investigate what affects how strong the magnet is. If there are just one or two coils, does it work as well as if there are many coils? Have them make a prediction and then test it. This will involve each group testing different numbers of coils, and anything else they want to investigate. For groups that seem to have a good grasp on the activity, they can try investigating what happens if they space their coils out more, or if the coils are close to one end of the nail or in the middle. Activity (30 minutes) Let the students experiment for a while, answering their questions and making sure they are on task. They can test the strength of their magnet using the paper clips provided. How might they figure out which one is stronger? (For the tutors: one suggestion for testing relative strength is to see how many paper clips the electromagnet will pick up.) Conclusion discussion (10 minutes or remaining time) Bring the group back together and ask them what worked and what didn't. See if the class can come up with any conclusions about what makes a strong electromagnet. Now see if they can think of what sorts of things include electromagnets. Here's a list to go off of if they are having trouble: • Electric motors are basic electromagnets. These can be found in many different things they use on a daily basis (such as electric windows in their car, vaccum cleaners, many other household electronics, etc.) Electromagnets are used at junk yards to pick up and move cars. Ask them how strong the electromagnet would have to be to pick up a car! Old fashioned alarm clocks and telephones used electromagnets to ring their bells Microphones and speakers are also applications of electromagnets (speakers convert electrical signals into mechanical vibrations through electromagnets).

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There are probably many other applications you can think of too.

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