Parts and Materials
- 6-volt battery
- Magnetic compass
- Small permanent magnet
- Spool of 28-gauge magnet wire
- Large bolt, nail, or steel rod
- Electrical tape
Magnet wire is a term for thin-gauge copper wire with enamel insulation instead of rubber or plastic insulation. Its small size and very thin insulation allow for many "turns" to be wound in a compact coil. You will need enough magnet wire to wrap hundreds of turns around the bolt, nail, or other rod-shaped steel form.
Be sure to select a bolt, nail, or rod that is magnetic. Stainless steel, for example, is non-magnetic and will not function for the purpose of an electromagnet coil! The ideal material for this experiment is soft iron, but any commonly available steel will suffice.
Lessons In Electric Circuits, Volume 1, chapter 14: "Magnetism and Electromagnetism"
- Application of the left-hand rule
- Electromagnet construction
Wrap a single layer of electrical tape around the steel bar (or bolt, or mail) to protect the wire from abrasion. Proceed to wrap several hundred turns of wire around the steel bar, making the coil as even as possible. It is okay to overlap wire, and it is okay to wrap in the same style that a fishing reel wraps line around the spool. The only rule you must follow is that all turns must be wrapped around the bar in the same direction (no reversing from clockwise to counter-clockwise!). I find that a drill press works as a great tool for coil winding: clamp the rod in the drill's chuck as if it were a drill bit, then turn the drill motor on at a slow speed and let it do the wrapping! This allows you to feed wire onto the rod in a very steady, even manner.
After you've wrapped several hundred turns of wire around the rod, wrap a layer or two of electrical tape over the wire coil to secure the wire in place. Scrape the enamel insulation off the ends of the coil wires for connection to jumper leads, then connect the coil to a battery.
When electric current goes through the coil, it will produce a strong magnetic field: one "pole" at each end of the rod. This phenomenon is known as electromagnetism. The magnetic compass is used to identify the "North" and "South" poles of the electromagnet.
With the electromagnet energized (connected to the battery), place a permanent magnet near one pole and note whether there is an attractive or repulsive force. Reverse the orientation of the permanent magnet and note the difference in force.
Electromagnetism has many applications, including relays, electric motors, solenoids, doorbells, buzzers, computer printer mechanisms, and magnetic media "write" heads (tape recorders, disk drives).
You might notice a significant spark whenever the battery is disconnected from the electromagnet coil: much greater than the spark produced if the battery is simply short-circuited. This spark is the result of a high-voltage surge created whenever current is suddenly interrupted through the coil. The effect is known as inductive "kickback" and is capable of delivering a small but harmless electric shock! To avoid receiving this shock, do not place your body across the break in the circuit when de-energizing! Use one hand at a time when un-powering the coil and you'll be perfectly safe. This phenomenon will be explored in greater detail in the next chapter (DC Circuits).
Lessons In Electric Circuits copyright (C) 2000-2020 Tony R. Kuphaldt, under the terms and conditions of the CC BY License.
See the Design Science License (Appendix 3) for details regarding copying and distribution.
Revised January 18, 2010
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