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Get Away: What Happens When The North Pole of a Magnet is Placed Near the North or South Pole of Another Magnet?

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Author: Janice VanCleave

Problem

What happens when the north pole of a magnet is placed near the north or south pole of another magnet?

Materials

  • scissors
  • ruler
  • sheet of paper
  • paper hole-punch
  • string
  • 2 bar magnets
  • masking tape

Procedure

  1. Make a paper sling to hold the first magnet by cutting a 1-inch × 8-inch (2.5-cm × 20-cm) strip from the paper.
  2. Use the hole-punch to make a hole in each end of the paper strip.
  3. Bend the strip of paper to bring the holes at each end together. Then put a 12-inch (30-cm) string through the holes, and knot the string at one end to tie the holes together.
  4. Place the first magnet in the sling.
  5. Tape the free end of the string to the edge of a wooden table so that the magnet hangs horizontally.
  6. Hold the second magnet in your hand so that its north pole is near, but not touching, the south pole of the hanging magnet.
  7. Observe the motion of the hanging magnet.
  8. Get Away

  9. Steady the sling, then hold the south pole of the magnet in your hand near the south pole of the hanging magnet
  10. Again, observe the motion of the hanging magnet
  11. Repeat, holding the north pole of the second magnet in your hand near the north pole of the hanging magnet
  12. Observe the motion of the hanging magnet

Results

The hanging magnet moves toward the hand-held magnet when the poles are different (north near south). When like poles (north near north, or south near south) are held close to each other, the hanging magnet moves away from the hand-held magnet.

Why?

The poles of magnets exert attractive and repulsive forces upon each other. "Unlike" (north and south) magnetic poles attract each other, and "like" (north and north, or south and south) magnetic poles repel each other. The magnetic force field coming out of the north pole actually moves toward and enters the south pole of the second magnet, thus drawing the two magnets toward each other. When two north poles or two south poles are brought together, the magnetic force fields of like poles push against each other, causing the magnets to move apart.

Get Away

Let's Explore

  1. Is it necessary to have one of the magnets suspended? Remove the magnet from the sling and place it on a smooth table. Repeat the experiment, recording any movement of the magnet on the table when the hand-held magnet moves toward it.
  2. Does the attraction and repulsion of magnetic poles hold true for all shapes of magnets? Repeat the original experiment using different shapes of magnets. Try mixing and matching the shapes of the magnets, such as suspending a bar-shaped magnet while holding a round magnet. Science Fair Hint: Photographs taken during the experiments, as well as diagrams showing the position of the magnets when like and unlike poles repel or attract each other, can be used as part of a project display. Label the poles of the magnets on the diagrams, and use arrows to indicate the direction that each magnet moved.

Show Time!

Tape the ends of a thread about 12 inches (30 cm) long to opposite sides of a small piece of magnetic craft tape (found at arts and crafts stores). Tape the loop formed by the thread to a table so that the magnet hangs over the edge. Hang a second magnet level with, and as close as possible to, the first magnet without touching them to each other. Spin one of the magnets a few times to wind the thread, and then release. Use the knowledge that the outside surface of each side of the tape is polar to explain the motion of the two magnets. Hang these magnets as part of a project display, along with diagrams explaining their action.

Check It Out!

A magnetic levitation train (called a "Maglev") floats above the track because of the repulsion between a magnet on the train and the magnetized track. Write a report about the use of magnets in this modern transportation system. Is it considered safe? Is it faster than traditional trains? Would it be more ecologically sound?

Get Away

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