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  • Magnetism and electricity are forces generated by the movement of electrons. They are both electromagnetic forces – the interplay of these two forces is the basis for many modern technologies. Electromagnets are magnets that are generated by electric fields. They have the advantage over regular magnets in that they can be switched on and off.

    Electromagnets can be created by wrapping a wire around an iron nail and running current through the wire. The electric field in the wire coil creates a magnetic field around the nail. In some cases, the nail will remain magnetised even when removed from within the wire coil. Electromagnets are fundamental to many modern technologies.

    In this activity, students build a simple electromagnet.

    By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

    • build a simple electromagnet
    • explore the influence of different variables on the effectiveness of the electromagnet
    • work methodically to adapt their design to improve the electromagnet function.

    Download the Word file (see link below) for:

    • background information for teachers
    • student instructions.

    Nature of science

    The NZC ‘Investigating in science’ strand of the nature of science requires teachers to provide students with opportunities to extend their experiences and personal explanations of the natural world through exploration, play, asking questions and discussing simple models. This activity provides such opportunities.

    Activity ideas

    Other activities on the SLH that explore magnetism include Probing fridge magnets, Make an electric motor, Investigating magnetism and Making a weather vane and compass.

    Related content

    There are several articles and a PLD session related to magnetism. They include Introducing magnetism, Using magnetism, Geothermal power, Superconductivity, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and Exploring magnetism.

      Published 14 February 2018 Referencing Hub articles
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