Explore the powerful engineering of electromagnets in this fun and easy electricity project. Learn How to Make an Electromagnet! Plus, learn why electromagnets are important in our race to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels… They’re the key to electric cars! Electric and hybrid vehicles use electromagnets to help them go instead of fuel.
Why Do We Need to Reduce Our Fuel Usage?
Just pull your car up to the gas pump and fill it up, right? Not forever though! Fossil fuels like the oil from which gasoline is made are a limited resource. The current estimate is that we only have a little over 50 more years left of crude oil supply if we continue at our current usage rate.
Plus, burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide which contributes to climate change. According to the EPA, greenhouse gases produced by transportation vehicles account for about 29% of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
How Do Electric Vehicles Help?
Since cars and trucks are some of our biggest users of oil, automotive manufacturers have developed ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Hybrid vehicles combine battery power with gasoline combustion engines. Electric cars (and trains, too!) use rechargeable batteries to power electric motors. Electromagnets make this possible.
What is an Electromagnet?
An electromagnet is a type of magnet where the magnetic field is created by an electric current. They typically consist of a conductive wire wrapped around a metal core. When current is passed through the wire, the metal core becomes magnetic.
How Do Electromagnets Work in Cars
Electric motors convert the energy from an electric current to motion using a magnet. Electric current is applied to a conductive coil attached to the axles of the car, creating a magnetic field. This electrically-created magnetic field has opposite magnetic poles to a strong magnet that surrounds the coil within the car. The like poles in the two magnets push on each other while the opposite poles pull on each other. This causes the motor to turn, which then causes the wheels and axles to rotate.
Supplies to Make a Simple Electromagnet
Supplies for this project can easily be found at your local hardware store. I’ve also added some links for online purchasing. Please note, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This is at no cost to you.
- 18 gauge insulated copper wire
- Wire strippers (optional)
- 3-4” long nail or bolt made out of zinc or iron
- 9V, C, or D battery
- Electric tape or masking tape
- Paper clips, safety pins, or other lightweight metal items
SAFETY NOTE: ADULT SUPERVISION REQUIRED when working with electric components. Disconnect battery when done with the experiment or if components get hot.
How to Make an Electromagnet
- Leave about a 4” end of wire loose and then tightly wrap the wire around the nail or bolt. Wrap it as many times as possible leaving just a small amount of exposed metal at each end. The more coils, the stronger the electromagnet. Secure with tape. Leave an additional uncoiled 4 inches of wire, then cut the wire.
- Strip the insulation off of both ends of the copper wire, leaving about 1/2” of unprotected wire.
- Test the coiled bolt by placing it next a pile of lightweight metal items like paper clips or safety pins. (Here’s a hint… Nothing should happen yet.).
- Attach the wire ends to the battery and tape into place with electrical tape. DO NOT TOUCH THE EXPOSED COPPER ENDS OF THE WIRE (HOLD THE INSULATED PORTION INSTEAD)!
- Move the coiled nail or bolt near the pile of lightweight metal items. See how it picks the items up just like a magnet? You’ve created an electromagnet!
- Disconnect the battery when done with the experiment or if the battery or bolt get hot.
Take it Further: Test the Strength of the Electromagnet
Test the strength of your electromagnet by counting the number of paper clips or safety pins it can pick up. How many were too many?
More Electricity Projects for Kids
Looking for more ways to teach kids about electricity? Check out our Circuit Activities for Kids!
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