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What Factors Affect the Strength of an Electromagnet?

Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
3-4 students
Active Time
60 minutes
Total Time
60 minutes
Area of Science
Key Concepts
Electricity, Magnetism, Electromagnetism, Forces
Learning Objectives
  • Build a working electromagnet from supplied materials
  • Ask a scientific question about electromagnets that can be answered with an in-class experiment
  • Plan and conduct an experiment to determine how a certain variable affects the strength of an electromagnet
Paperclips are attracted to an electromagnet made from wires and a nail

Overview

Making an electromagnet from a battery, nail, and wire is a classic science demonstration. But instead of just demonstrating this for your students, let them explore it themselves! In this lesson they will discover how different variables affect the strength of an electromagnet.

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
  • MS-PS2-3. Ask questions about data to determine the factors that affect the strength of electric and magnetic forces.
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Planning and Carrying Out Investigations. Plan and conduct an investigation individually and collaboratively, and in the design: identify independent and dependent variables and controls, what tools are needed to do the gathering, how measurements will be recorded, and how many data are needed to support a claim.
PS2.B: Types of Interactions. Electric and magnetic (electromagnetic) forces can be attractive or repulsive, and their sizes depend on the magnitudes of the charges, currents, or magnetic strengths involved and on the distances between the interacting objects.
Cause and Effect. Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

Credits

Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

Materials


Materials used to create an electromagnet

Materials used to create an electromagnet include: a straw, a wooden pencil, metal nails of various sizes, alligator clips, paper clips, sandpaper, a spool of copper wire, tape, a D cell battery, a battery holder and scissors. These items can be used test the strength of the electromagnet based on how many paperclips it can lift.

For each group of students:

  • D battery
  • Battery holder
  • Alligator clips (2)
  • Small piece of fine-grit sandpaper, roughly 3×3 cm
  • Scissors
  • Tape (any type is OK)
  • Magnet wire
  • Assorted nails
  • Other cylindrical items to use as magnet cores, like wooden pencils and plastic straws
  • Metal paper clips (one box can be shared among several groups). Note that plastic-coated metal paper clips are OK, but do not use clips that are entirely plastic.

For classroom demonstration (optional):

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Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
3-4 students
Active Time
60 minutes
Total Time
60 minutes
Area of Science
Key Concepts
Electricity, Magnetism, Electromagnetism, Forces
Learning Objectives
  • Build a working electromagnet from supplied materials
  • Ask a scientific question about electromagnets that can be answered with an in-class experiment
  • Plan and conduct an experiment to determine how a certain variable affects the strength of an electromagnet
Teacher Tool Box
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