Magnets are so much fun to play and learn with. From colorful letters and numbers, to the magnets picked up on family vacations, kids are fascinated by how magnets work.
The magnets on your refrigerator are permanent magnets. But did you know you can create your own temporary magnets using electricity? These type of magnets are called electromagnets.
Recently we had fun with this simple Building an Electromagnet STEM Activity.
It’s become one of our favorite STEM activities, and it’s perfect for elementary kids and middle schoolers.
While this STEM project is perfect for older kids, younger ones will be fascinated by it as well. Just be sure an adult is handling the electromagnet, as it can get hot.
Younger kids will also like this simple exploring magnets activity.
Electromagnet STEM Activity
Affiliate links have been used below. See my full disclosure for more details.
- Thin Copper Wire
- AA Battery
- Large Iron Nail
- Metal Paperclips
- Masking Tape
Cut a piece of copper wire that is 3 feet long.
Leave 5 inches of wire loose at one end and have your child begin wrapping the wire tightly around the iron nail. It is important to wrap the wire as neatly and tightly as possible.
Have your child stop wrapping the wire when they have 5 inches of wire left.
Once the wire is wrapped around the nail have your child use sandpaper to carefully remove the outer covering of the wire from the last inch of both ends of the wire. To do this they can pinch the sandpaper around the wire and gently pull it from the wire several times.
Use a small amount of tape to attach the ends of the wire to the ends of your battery. Use caution! The battery will get very hot once both ends of the wire are touching it. An adult should do this step for younger children.
Hold the battery by its middle and touch one end of the nail to a paper clip. If your electromagnet has been set up correctly, the nail should now be magnetized and pick up the paper clip.
How do electromagnets work?
An electromagnet is a temporary magnet. It is only magnetic when there is electricity.
The electricity from the battery flows from the battery through the copper wire and to the nail. It temporarily arranges the molecules in the nail, making the nail magnetic.
Caution: The electromagnet will use up the battery very quickly, which is why the battery gets hot. Make sure you disconnect the wires as soon as you are finished with this STEM activity.
Electromagnets are used when engineers design and build motors. You can find them in MRI machines, music equipment, and in some computer parts.
If you have old, unwanted electronics at home, you may want to have fun reverse engineering with your child and try taking electronics apart to look for a few electromagnets.
Extension Activities to Try with Your Electromagnet:
- How many paperclips can you pick up at one time?
- Try making a chain of paperclips by using the electromagnet to pick up one and then touching a second paperclip with the one you’ve picked up. Then try to pick up another one. How long can you make the chain?
- Replace your AA batter with a C or D cell battery. How does this affect the electromagnet?
Older kids will have fun with this Building an Electromagnet STEM Activity.
They may even want to take the fun further and make an electromagnetic train.
You’ll also like these posts:
Get more fun hands-on learning ideas like this delivered to your email by subscribing to our newsletter.