Oersted's Experiment

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Updated on Jan 29, 2014

Hans Christian Oersted was a Danish scientist who explored the relationship between electric current and magnetism. Current is the flow of electrons, and is how we hardness electricity. Currents create their own magnetic fields in closed loops, which magnets are known to induce, or create current, in wires.

Oersted experimented with this, using a compass, which uses the magnetic poles of the Earth to show your which direction you are facing. By bringing the compass near a closed current loop, he was able to interfere with the magnetic field and cause the compass needle to move.


Observe electromagnetic induction by recreating Oersted’s Experiment.

What will happen when you bring the compass towards the current loop?


  • D battery
  • Insulated wire
  • Electrical tape
  • Compass
  • Box
  • Electical tape


  1. Cut a 1 meter loop of insulated wire.
  2. Use electrical tape to secure a stripped end of the wire to one side of a D battery.
  3. Run the wire up one side of the box, across the top, and down the other side. Make sure you have enough wire so that itcan run along the table or ground to reconnect the battery. Now you have a loop!
  4. Connect the other open end of the wire to the battery so current begins to flow.
  5. Bring the compass into the center of the loop. What happens?
  6. Move the compass around closer to the wire and away from the wire. Record your observations.


The wire will carry a current that creates a magnetic field around itself. Bringing the compass near the wire or in the loop will cause the compass needle to move.


The current will induce a magnetic field based on the right-handrule. Make a “thumbs-up” sign with your right hand. The thumb will be the direction of the current (flowing from the negative to positive terminal of the battery) and the fingers will curve around in the direction of the magnetic field.

The magnetic field created by the current will interfere with the magnetic field the compass experiences when it is brought near enough.

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