Explore with Magnets

When you think of a magnet you might think they are mostly used to attach drawings onto your fridge. But did you know that magnets can be used in many different ways, from sorting our recycling to helping explorers find the Earth’s North Pole?

We will be learning about some of the neat things that magnets can do by performing a few different experiments. What you will need:

  • At least two magnets (contact us if you are interested in our themed magnets!)
  • Box of paperclips (or similar small metal objects)
  • Assortment of other small items

First things first – what is a magnet? A magnet is an object that creates a magnetic field around it. This magnetic field is invisible and can be used to attract certain types of materials. Using one of your magnets, see what sorts of items you can pick up.

Magnets attract certain materials, like paper clips, while some materials cannot be picked up by magnets, like most plastic and wood. At a recycling plant, workers will use magnets to quickly sort out things like soup cans and jar lids from the rest of the recycling.

What happens when you hold the magnet close or far away from a paper clip? The magnet needs to be close enough to the paper clip to pick it up! This is because the magnetic field is stronger closer to the magnet.

What happens when you put two magnets together? It depends on which way they are pointed! A magnet has two different ends, called the north pole and the south pole. When you put the north pole of one magnet next to the south pole of another magnet, they will try to pull themselves together. This is called attraction. Try it out with your two magnets (and be careful that you don’t accidentally get pinched)!

When you try to put two north poles together (or two south poles) they will try to push away from each other, called repulsion. Try this out and see how close you can get the two magnets before one is pushed away!

Connecting two magnets together will create a larger and stronger magnetic field. On the other hand, cutting a magnet in half would create two smaller and weaker magnets. See how many paper clips you can pick up with one magnet. Then put two or more magnets together and see if there is a difference!

With one magnet I was able to pick up 38 paper clips. With five magnets I was able to pick up 130 paper clips!

Did you know that the Earth itself is actually a very large magnet? When we stand on the ground we are inside the Earth’s magnetic field. This is why the needle on a compass always points towards the Earth’s North Pole (or pretty close anyways – the true magnetic north pole actually moves a little bit every year!). The Earth’s magnetic field extends all the way into outer space, and is the reason we can see cool things like the Northern Lights.

Now that you know a bit about magnets, next time we will learn about creating a magnetic with electricity! This activity is based on the book If: Ball, Then: Catch.

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