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Way back in the first lesson of this magnetism block, we talked about the fact that magnetic fields are caused by electrons moving in the same direction. Up to this point, we’ve been focusing on magnetism being caused by an unequal number of electrons spinning in the same direction in an atom. If an atom has more electrons spinning in one direction than in the other direction, that atom will have a magnetic field. When bunches of these atoms get together, we have a permanent magnet. In this lesson, we’re going to talk about what happens if we force electrons to move. Give this a try to start out with.


Experiment 1



Be careful here! You will basically be creating a short circuit, which means it may get hot!! If it gets hot, disconnect one end of the wire from the battery immediately! It is possible to burn yourself so be careful please!

You need:Electromagnet

9 volt battery

A nail that can be picked up by a magnet

At least 3 feet of insulated wire (magnet wire works best but others will work okay)

Paper Clips

Masking Tape


1. Take your wire and remove about an inch of insulation from both ends.

2. Wrap your wire many, many times around the nail. The more times you wrap the wire, the stronger the electromagnet will be. Be sure to always wrap in the same direction. If you start wrapping clockwise, for example, be sure to keep wrapping clockwise.

3. Now connect one end of your wire to one terminal of the battery.

4. Lastly, connect the other end of the wire to the other terminal of the battery. This is where the wire may begin to heat up, so be careful.

5. Move your compass around your electromagnet. Does it effect the compass?

6. See if your electromagnet can pick up paper clips.

7. Switch the wires from one terminal of the battery to the other. Electricity is now moving in the opposite direction from the direction it was moving in before. Try the compass again. Do you see a change in which end of the nail the north side of the compass points to?


What happened there? By hooking that coil of wire up to the battery, you created an electromagnet. Remember, that moving electrons causes a magnetic field. Well, by connecting the two ends of your wire up to the battery, you caused the electrons in the wire to move through the wire in one direction. Since many electrons are moving in one direction, you get a magnetic field! The nail helps to focus the field and strengthen it. In fact, if you could see the atoms inside the nail, you would be able to see them turn to align themselves with the magnetic field created by the electrons moving through the wire. You might want to test the nail by itself now that you’ve done the experiment. You may have caused it to become a permanent magnet!

Let’s try this again, a slightly different way.



Experiment 2

Making a Galvanometer


You need:Galvometer

At least 2 feet of wire (you can reuse the wire from Experiment 1 if you wish)


9 volt battery

1. Remove the insulation from about an inch of each end of the wire.

2. Wrap the wire at least 30-50 times around the compass.

3. Connect one end of the wire to the battery.

4. While looking at the compass, repeatedly tap the other end of the wire to the battery. You should see the compass react to the tapping.

5. Switch the wires from one terminal of the battery to the other. Now tap again. Do you see a difference in the way the compass moves?


You just made a simple galvanometer. “Oh boy, that’s great! Hey Bob, take a look! I just made a....a what?!?” I thought you might ask that question. A galvanometer is a device that is used to find and measure electric current. “But, it made a compass needle move...isn’t that a magnetic field, not electricity?” Ah, yes, but hold on a minute. What is electric current...moving electrons. What do moving electrons create...a magnetic field! By the galvanometer detecting a change in the magnetic field, it is actually measuring electrical current! So, now that you’ve made one let’s use it!


Experiment 3

The Ins and Outs of Electricity


You need:Magnetgenerator

Your handy galvanometer

The strongest magnet you own

Another 2 feet or more of wire

Toilet paper or paper towel tube

1. Take your new piece of wire and remove about an inch of insulation from both ends of the wire.

2. Wrap this wire tightly and carefully around the end of the paper towel tube. Do as many wraps as you can while still leaving about 4 inches of wire on both sides of the coil. You may want to put a piece of tape on the coil to keep it from unwinding. Pull the coil from the paper towel tube, keeping the coil tightly wrapped.

3. Hook up your new coil with your galvanometer. One wire of the coil should be connected to one wire of the galvanometer and the other wire should be connected to the other end of the galvanometer.

4. Now move your magnet in and out of the the coil. Can you see the compass move? Does a stronger or weaker magnet make the compass move more? Does it matter how fast you move the magnet in and out of the coil?


Taa Daa!!! Ladies and gentlemen you just made electricity!!!!! You also just recreated one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time. One story about this discovery, goes like this. A science teacher doing a demonstration for his students (can you see why I like this story) noticed that as he moved a magnet, he caused one of his instruments to register the flow of electricity. He experimented a bit further with this and noticed that a moving magnetic field can actually create electrical current. Thus tying the magnetism and the electricity together. Before that, they were seen as two completely different phenomena! Now we know, that you can’t have an electric field without a magnetic field. You also cannot have a moving magnetic field, without causing electricity in objects that electrons can move in (like wires). Moving electrons create a magnetic field and moving magnetic fields can create electric currents.

“So, if I just made electricity, can I power a light bulb by moving a magnet around?” Yes, if you moved that magnet back and forth fast enough you could power a light bulb. However, by fast enough, I mean like 1000 times a second or more! If you had a stronger magnet, or many more coils in your wire, then you could make a greater amount of electricity each time you moved the magnet through the wire. Believe it or not, most of the electricity you use comes from moving magnets around coils of wire! Electrical power plants either spin HUGE coils of wire around very powerful magnets or they spin very powerful magnets around HUGE coils of wire. The electricity to power your computer, your lights, your air conditioning, your radio or whatever, comes from spinning magnets or wires! “But Jim, what about all those nuclear and coal power plants I hear about all the time?” Good question. Do you know what that nuclear and coal stuff does? It gets really hot. When it gets really hot, it boils water. When it boils water, it makes steam and do you know what the steam does? It causes giant wheels to turn. Guess what’s on those giant wheels. That’s right, a huge coil of wire or very powerful magnets! Coal and nuclear energy basically do little more than boil water. With the exception of solar energy almost all electrical production comes from something huge spinning really fast!

Next lesson, I’m going to teach you how to make two really fun gadgets that rely on this electricity makes magnetism and magnetism makes electricity thing.


In A Nutshell

Magnetism is caused by moving electrons.

Electricity is moving electrons.

Electricity causes magnetism.

Moving magnetic fields can cause electrons to move.

Electricity can be caused by a moving magnetic field.


Did You Get It?

1. What causes magnetism?

2. Why did the nail become a magnet when we wrapped the wire around it and connected it to a battery?

3. Why did the compass move in the galvanometer?

4. Why does the compass move when you move the magnet in and out of the connected coil of wire?



1. Moving electrons.

2. Hooking the wire up to the battery forced electrons to move through the wire. Since so many electrons were moving in the same direction, it caused a noticeable magnetic field. The nail focused the field, since the atoms in the nail aligned themselves to the magnetic field created by the moving electrons in the coil of wire.

3. The compass is reacting the the magnetic field that is created by the electricity flowing in the wire.

4. The moving magnetic field forces the electrons in the wire to move. These moving electrons are an electric current. Since electrons are moving, we have a magnetic field as well. The magnetic field causes the compass to move. Electricity causes magnetism and moving magnetism causes electricity!

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