Early in the 1800s, people discovered that a current-carrying wire created a magnetic field, and this effect was increased when the wire was shaped into a coil. Many home appliances use electromagnets; for example, household fans rely on electromagnets to spin.

What You Need

  • D-cell battery
  • Wide rubber band
  • 3-inch nail
  • 2 feet of insulated copper wire, with a bit of each end’s insulation stripped away
  • Several paperclips

What You Do

Step 1:  Wrap the wire around the nail, making a nice, neat coil and leaving a couple of inches of wire unwound at each end of the nail.

Step 2:  Place the rubber band around the battery, so that the band crosses both terminals of the battery. This will be used to hold the wires in place.

Step 3:  Attach one end of the wire under the rubber band at the positive terminal of the battery. Make sure that the stripped end of the wire makes contact with the metal surface of the battery. Repeat this with the other end of the wire, attaching it to the negative end of the battery.

Step 4:  Pick up the paperclips with the electromagnet.

What Else to Try

Do you think increasing or decreasing the amount of coils will affect how many paperclips you can pick up? What about increasing how many batteries are used?

Thinkery is an evolution of Austin Children’s Museum and Austin’s sparkling new home for “why” and “how.” It’s a place where science and families play side by side, where people connect with ideas by doing, making and experiencing. It’s a foundry for a new generation of innovators and creative problem solvers. And it’s a heck of a good time.

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