If you’re cooped up for the weekend with naught to do, here’s a simple experiment in electromagnetism you can make with your quarantine buddies/family using a couple of neodymium magnets, some copper wire, and a AA battery. While you’re at it, use it to teach the kiddos about the wonders of electromagnetism™. Let’s watch:

So, there’s actually something really interesting going on here. The idea that electricity has a relationship to magnetism was demonstrated by Danish Physicist, Hans Christian Ørsted, in 1820. He premised that magnetic fields circulate around a wire carrying a current. This experiment takes it one step further.

The current is transferred from one end of the battery to the magnet, across the coil, and into the magnet at the opposite end. Just as Ørsted observed, the current flowing through the wire produces a magnetic field. This magnetic field opposes that of the magnets, pulling one end and pushing the other. It’s this reason why the north (or south) poles of the magnet should be oriented away from each other. So, you would have something like this:

N(magnet)S — S(battery)N — S(magnet)N

So, now that you have a little background, go grab a AA battery, some 18-gauge copper wire (uncoated), and some rare earth/neodymium magnets.

electromagnetic train

The amount of amperage in a AA battery is very low (around 0.1 amps), so there’s no risk of being electrocuted (it would need to be around 3 amps to kill you). It’s feasible this could be scaled up to use more/larger batteries, so just make sure you know what amount of current you’re dealing with.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a metric ton of copper wire just lying around your house, there are some really interesting ‘track’ variations you can make with longer runs able to support running more than one ‘train’.

electromagnetic train

There are a TON of simple ‘electromagnetic’ train videos available, but YouTube creator AmazingScience updated his initial electromagnetic train design to show the batteries running on top of a length of two copper coils instead of just though them. If you’re running out of things to do, his YouTube channel contains lots of DIY projects which use simple materials to help stave off your boredom.

Author

Carlos wrestles gators, and by gators, we mean words. He also loves good design, good books, and good coffee.