Science project

Magnetic Levitation


Your test of your materials has just gotten a null result, or, basically, nothing happening. Null results are important in science, because they can mean that you’re seeing something you don’t yet understand and should experiment on more. They also tell you more about the world: you now know that none of the materials you tested can block magnetic fields.

None of your test materials shielded, or blocked, the magnetic field because resistance to magnetism is usually a very small effect. Scientists have created special materials that can do so, but everyday objects aren’t able to do it very well. The only magnetic effect you might see with certain everyday objects is ferromagnetism. Ferromagnetism is the tendency of iron, nickel, and some other metals to become magnetic themselves when exposed to a magnetic field. This amplifies magnetic fields (which explains why putting an iron object between the magnet and the paper clip may have made the magnet more powerful), and can also be used to make electromagnets more powerful.

The reason the paperclip was so much more resistant to being pulled away when it was closer to the magnet is because magnetic forces follow what is called a power law. This means that they get weaker by the distance multiplied by itself twice. Depending on how your magnet is shaped, it will have either an r-squared or r-cubed power law relative to your paperclip. R-squared means you multiply the distance by itself and then divide the power of your magnet by that amount to get how strong the magnet is. R-cubed means multiplying the distance three times before you do the above.

Sound complicated? Here’s all you really need to know: magnets get weaker the farther away from them you go. It’s easy to see how powerful the magnet is up close, but when you’re just a few feet away, you feel nothing. That’s a power law in action. Try squaring or cubing a few numbers, starting with 1 and going up, to see just how big a difference distance can make.

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