How Do Magnetic Fields Differ?
Talk It Over
What are magnets? How do they work? Can you find a way to show the force that surrounds a magnet?
- Magnets, variety of sizes and shapes
- Glue or tape
- White paper plates, 1 for each magnet
- Outdoor place to work
- Face mask
- Rubber or heavy latex gloves
- Steel wool pad
- Salt shaker
- Spray adhesive
- Glue or tape each magnet you want to test to the bottom of a white paper plate, like this:
- Outdoors, put on the safety goggles, face mask, and gloves.
- Using scissors, cut tiny pieces from the steel wool pad into the salt shaker. Make the pieces as small as possible. Get the salt shaker about half full.
- Shake steel wool pieces from the salt shaker onto a paper plate. Distribute the pieces as finely and evenly as you can. Watch as a pattern takes shape.
- When you see the magnet's field clearly on the plate, stop shaking the steel pieces. Gently spray with spray adhesive to fix the steel wool pieces in place. You now have a permanent record of the magnet's field.
- Repeat steps 4 and 5 for each magnet you want to study.
Do not breathe in the tiny steel pieces or get them in your eyes or fingers. That's why the mask, goggles,and gloves are essential for this project. You can get all those supplies at a hardware store, and they are not expensive. Work outside in a well-ventilated area, and do not breathe in the spray adhesive. Wear your goggles and mask when you use the spray.
Make sure an adult works with you and that you follow all the safety procedures. Steel wool splinters in your fingers are no fun.
Use the "Go" procedure to show what happens when two magnets interact. Tape bar magnets to the bottoms of plates, turning the opposite poles toward or away from each other. Try to explain the differences in the magnetic fields you record this way.
You might also try capturing magnetic fields in gelatin. Ask an adult to help you make unflavored gelatin according to the directions on the package. Add steel wool pieces to the gelatin and put the mixture in a jam jar. Let it cool until it thickens slightly, but is not yet set. Then tape a magnet to the bottom of the jar and shake up the gelatin. Let it solidify in the refrigerator. With luck and a little practice, you may be able to capture magnetic fields in three dimensions this way.
Show Your Results
For "Go Easy" and "Go," take photographs of your images or glue your plates directly to your display board. Draw pictures to show how the position of each magnet on the bottom of its plate relates to the field pattern you captured. Write a few sentences to explain what a magnetic field is. Describe how your magnetic fields vary in their shape, size, and strength.
Do the same for "Go Far," showing how the fields of two magnets differ depending on the orientation of the poles. If you capture magnetic fields in three dimensions, display your gelatin filled jars along with your project.
Tips and Tricks
- Spray the adhesive at a distance from the plates. Get too close and you'll push the steel pieces out of line.
- Don't use soapy steel wool pads for this project. Use plain steel wool pads that are available at hardware stores. Fine steel wool works best.
Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state’s handbook of Science Safety.