An electromagnet is a special kind of magnet that is created using electricity. Electricity is the flow of electrons. In this activity, you will make an electromagnet where the flow of electrons through the wire, will cause a magnetic force. This force will transfer to the iron nail, the nail will become magnetized, and will pick up metal objects.
If you have a magnet handy, take it out and see how many paper clips you can pick up in a chain. A regular magnet already has its magnetism built in, and it always attracts certain materials like iron.
But the electromagnet we are going to make is different because it is made with a nail, wire, and batteries. The nail only becomes magnetic when we pass an electric current through it. It’s like a magnet that can turn on and off.
To learn more about electricity, check out our post on electricity and making simple circuits.
Make an Electromagnet
Before we make an electromagnet, here are a few tips:
- Please remind your children that when the electricity is flowing and the nail is magnetized, the batteries are going to get hot. So, please do not touch the wires, batteries, or alligator clip ends.
- Use the single-throw switch to stop the flow of electricity.
- When all wires are attached and electricity is flowing, hold the wires where they are coated. Do not touch any of the metal parts of the circuit.
- Let the batteries sit for 5 to 10 minutes before removing them from the battery holders.
- I do recommend using the alligator clips and battery holder. These are available for sale individually or in a kit. We used this kit (at the time of this writing, there is a 10% coupon on the product page – aff link).
Make an Electromagnet
- Electricity STEM Kit with electromagnet supplies Purchase this or gather the following items
- 2 Alligator clips with wires
- 2 A AA battery holder that holds 2 batteries
- 1 Connector wire
- 1 Single-throw switch
- Thin copper-coated wire
- An iron nail
- 2 AA batteries
- thin, coated copper wire
- Place the 2 AA batteries in the battery holder
- Open the switch.
- Attach the connector wire to one end of one AA battery and attach one alligator clip to the other AA battery.
- Gather the 2 alligator clips and the connector wire
- Connect the other batter clip to the single-throw switch.
- Use sandpaper to rub off the coating on both ends of the wire.
- Wrap the copper wire around the iron nail. Do not overlap the wire and wrap the wire close together. The more wire on the nail, the stronger the magnet.
- Clip one alligator clip to one end of the copper wire and the other alligator clip to the other end of the wire.
- Close the switch.
- Hold the wires where they are plastic coated and try to pick up a paper clip with the magnetized nail.
Electricity was flowing in a circuit from one end of the battery to the other via the wire. This allowed electricity to flow. When electricity flows a magnetic field is created. This magnetic field magnetizes the iron nail. The nail is then able to pick up objects. Certain cranes use electromagnetism to pick up cars in a junkyard.
I hold a master’s degree in child development and early education and am working on a post-baccalaureate in biology. I spent 15 years working for a biotechnology company developing IT systems in DNA testing laboratories across the US. I taught K4 in a private school, homeschooled my children, and have taught on the mission field in southern Asia. For 4 years, I served on our state’s FIRST Lego League tournament Board and served as the Judging Director. I own thehomeschoolscientist and also write a regular science column for Homeschooling Today Magazine. You’ll also find my writings on the CTCMath blog. Through this site, I have authored over 50 math and science resources.