Kids love magnets, and why not? The way magnets attract metals and stick to each other looks like pure magic. So it’s no wonder that magicians use the magnetic field produced by strong magnets to levitate objects as part of their illusions. Today, we are going to do some magnet magic of our own and perform the magnet floating paper clip trick!
Before we start, I want to point out that you need a STRONG magnet to pull off this trick. Regular magnets just do not have enough force to attract the paper clip without touching it. Therefore, you need to get neodymium magnets or ceramic magnets for this science experiment to work.
Also, you don’t have to use Legos for this experiment. All you need is to build a bridge, so you can use whatever you have around the house. For example, you can use paper towel rolls and a ruler. We just love Legos and love how we can adjust the height of the bridge if necessary.
How to Make a Paper Clip Float in the Air
- Lego bricks
- Neodymium magnet
- Paper Clip
- String (we used fishing line because you can barely see it and therefore helps with the illusion that the paper clip is levitating)
- Ask your kids if they can make paper clips levitate (they cannot). Ask your kids if they can make the paper clips stick to each other without hooking them (they cannot).
- Build a simple bridge. We used Legos to build ours.
- Tape the magnet to the deck of the bridge. If you manage to find a metal ruler for the bridge deck, then the magnet will simply stick to it.
- Tie a paper clip to the string.
- Slowly lift the paper clip toward the magnet until it is suspended in mid-air. Tape the other end of the string to the floor.
- Slowly attach additional paper clips to the suspended paper clip. You just need to lightly touch the paper clips to each other.
- Continue until all the paper clips all to the ground!
My kids at first were not very enthusiastic about this magnet experiment. We just got the neodymium magnet and they have already been playing with it for a couple of hours. So they were like, yes we know magnets attract paper clips, what’s the big deal.
But they couldn’t hide their excitement when they saw the paper clip levitating! I mean, the paper clip is defying gravity and just floating in mid-air.
Then I really blew their minds when I added additional paper clips to the bottom of the floating one and made multiple paper clips hang in mid-air.
I think this magnet trick just made me a cool mom.
Of course, my son immediately how the paper clip was not falling to the floor. Here is the explanation.
Science Behind the Floating Paper Clip Trick
There are two forces at work here: gravity and magnetism. Let’s explore both separately first.
Gravity is often associated with the Earth. However, anything that has mass has gravity.
Gravity is a force that pulls object toward each other. The larger the mass, the larger the gravitational pull. Earth’s gravity exists because Earth is so massive that we are all pulled down toward it. If you are on the moon, which has a much smaller mass than Earth, the gravitational pull is much less and that’s why you almost feel weightless on the moon.
Distance also impacts gravity. The farther apart two objects are, the weaker their gravitational pull is.
Then there is magnetism, which is a force that can attract or repel magnetic objects.
When the paper clip is suspended in mid-air, the magnet is pulling it upward and gravity is pulling it downward. If you try this experiment without the string, you will quickly realize that the magnet is so strong that the paper clip will just be stuck to it if you get it too close. But if you place the paper clip too far from the magnet, it will simply fall to the ground.
For the paper clip to levitate, you have to get it in the sweet spot. What that means is that you need to find the place where the force pulling the paper clip up (magnetism) is about equal to gravity pulling it down.
Now that we know why the paper clip can levitate, let’s move on to why the paper clips can all of a sudden stick together. After all, paper clips are not naturally magnetic!
Paper clips are made of steel and can be temporarily magnetized. This means the paper clips can only become a magnet for only a small time interval.
In the presence of a strong magnetic field, the paper clip becomes a temporary magnet and attract other paper clips. That’s why you can add a few paper clips to it before the entire paper clip chain gets too heavy and loses its fight with gravity. Also, it quickly loses its magnetism once the magnet is removed.
There are so many things to try with this paper clip magnet experiment!
- Give the suspended paper clip a light poke. Does it fall?
- Pass an object between the magnet and the paper clip. Does the object interrupt the magnetic field and make the paper clip fall?
- Add more paper clips and see how many paper clips you can stick to the suspended one before everything falls.
- Move the bridge from side to side. Does the paper clip also move with the magnet?
- How far can you lift the bridge before the paper clip falls?
- Blow on the paper clip and see if you can blow hard enough to make it fall.
- Find another light magnetic object and stick it to the paper clip. Why not!
- Attach another magnet to the bridge. Can you increase the distance between the paper clip and the magnet if there are multiple magnets?
- Try different paper clips. Can you suspend the large paper clips in mid-air?
Final Thoughts on the Magnet Paper Clip Experiment
I became an electrical engineer because I loved studying magnetism. And I discovered my interest in magnetic fields because of my awesome physics teacher in high school. Before that, I had no clue what I wanted to study in college.
So continue to do fun science experiments with your children! You never know what will pique their interest!
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