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Magnets. How do they work? It’s not a miracle, even though magnets may seem like mysterious things. They push and pull certain materials—and can even make them levitate—without touching them at all, but they seem to leave other materials entirely alone. In this science fair project, you will conduct a simple magnetic levitation experiment and test a number of materials to see if they have any magnetic shielding effect on the magnet’s field.
- Powerful permanent magnet (large neodymium magnets are excellent, but should only be used with adult supervision!)
- String or thread
- Test materials (flat objects that can fit in a 1-inch gap. Glass, copper, wood, etc.)
- Testing platform (a stack of large books works well)
- Something to secure magnet (a stiff, wooden ruler wedged between the top two books is perfect)
- Build your testing apparatus. Stack some heavy books on a table so that you create a platform that’s at least a foot off of your work surface. There needs to be enough room for you to place test materials between the magnet and your work surface.
- Place a ruler on top of your stack of books so that about four inches sticks out over the edge. Place another heavy book on top of the ruler to secure it.
- Tape your magnet to the end of the ruler.
- Tie one end of the string to the paperclip.
- Move the paperclip closer and closer to the magnet until it starts to be attracted. Tape the other end of the string to the table when the paperclip is close enough to the magnet so that it will stay suspended in the air.
- Try pulling the string to the side. How far can you move it without making it fall? Is it hard to do? Why do you think so?
- Move the paperclip as close to the magnet as you can without it touching and re-tape it. Repeat step 4. Do you notice any differences? Is it harder or easer to pull the string to the side? Why?
- Take your test materials and place them, one at a time, in the space between the magnet and your paperclip. Think about what kind of effect they might have on the magnetic force before you do so. Do any of them change the attraction of the paperclip to the magnet?
When your paperclip is closer to the magnet, you can move the string farther than when the paperclip is farther away. None of the materials you used should have been able to block the magnet’s field. If you used iron or steel as a test material, the magnet should have attracted the paperclip even more strongly, but the effect may be too small to notice.
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.