How Magnets Work

magnet experiment

Magnets are really cool. Anything that’s magnetic will stick to them. And because of the invisible magnetic field they produce around themselves, they can make things move without touching them.

Here are a couple of neat things you can do with magnets to learn about how they work. But make sure you keep magnets away from computers and cell phones because they can damage them.

magnet experiment

What sticks to a magnet?

Collect a bunch of small objects from around your house. Try to find objects that are made out of a variety of materials: plastic, wood, glass, and metal.

Touch a magnet to the objects, one by one. Which ones stick to the magnet and which ones don’t? Sort them into a pile of things that do, and a pile of things that don’t.

What’s going on? Whether or not something is magnetic depends on what it’s made of. Anything made of iron (like most nails, cutlery, or paperclips) or nickel (like some five-cent coins) will be magnetic.

magnet experiment

How close does the magnet have to be to an object in order to pull on it?

Pushing and pulling

Take two magnets and bring them close together. Depending on how you’ve positioned them, they will either pull or push on each other.

What’s going on? Like the earth, magnets have two poles, called north and south. Two north poles will push against each other, and so will two south poles. But a north pole and a south pole will pull on each other.

Magnets are an essential part of many pieces of technology, including credit cards, power generators, and telephones. The earth is also a giant magnet, which is why compasses work.

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Grant Harding is a puppeteer with a degree in biology and a passion for education and the environment. Follow Grant on Twitter, or check out his website.


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