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How do magnets work? How are they made?

How do magnets work? How are they made?

Introduction: (Initial Observation)

Magnets have always been exciting and in the past they have been associated with magic and witch craft. Still many believe that magnets have some healing power for pain and certain disease.
The fact that an invisible magnetic force is able to attract or repel certain metals is enough interesting for a science project.

This project guide contains information that you need in order to start your project. If you have any questions or need more support about this project, click on the “Ask Question” button on the top of this page to send me a message.

If you are new in doing science project, click on “How to Start” in the main page. There you will find helpful links that describe different types of science projects, scientific method, variables, hypothesis, graph, abstract and all other general basics that you need to know.

Project advisor

Information Gathering:

Find out about what you want to investigate. Read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about the effect or area of study. Click here for some online information. Keep track of where you got your information from.
Magnetism is the force where objects are attracted or repelled to one another. Usually these objects are metals such as iron.

Magnetic Poles, Forces, and Fields:

Every magnet has two poles. This is where most of its magnetic strength is most powerful. These poles are called north and south or north-seeking and south seeking poles. The poles are called this as when a magnet is hung or suspended the magnet lines up in a north – south direction. When the north pole of one magnet is placed near the north pole of another magnet, the poles are repelled. When the south poles of two magnets are placed near one another, they also are repelled from one another. When the north and south poles of two magnets are placed near one another, they are attracted to one another.

The attraction repelling of two magnets towards one another depends on how close they are to each other and how strong the magnetic force is within the magnet. The further apart of the magnets are the less they are attracted or repelled to one another.

When a magnet is broken into little pieces, a north pole will appear at one of the broken faces and a south pole. Each piece, regardless of how big or small, has its own north and south poles. The are around a magnet can also behave like a magnet. This is called a magnetic field. The larger the magnet and the closer the object to the magnet, the greater the force of the magnetic field.

Magnetic Materials:

The term magnetism is derived from Magnesia, the name of a region in Asia Minor where lodestone, a naturally magnetic iron ore, was found in ancient times. Iron is not the only material that is easily magnetized when placed in a magnetic field; others include nickel and cobalt.

Magnets can also be formed that are called electromagnets. A simple electromagnet is formed with a battery and copper wire coiled around a metal rod such as a nail. There is evidence that there is an electrical basis for magnetism.

 How is a Magnet Made?

The only naturally occurring magnets on Earth are lodestones made of the mineral magnetite. Since it is composed of an iron oxide and is formed within the Earth’s crust over millions of years, it orients itself to the magnetic field of the Earth. Thus, whenever people find lodestones, the stones are already magnetic. Lodestones were the first magnetic material studied by man and have been observed and studied since ancient times.

Other than lodestones, magnets are created by a process described below:

To investigate this process, we describe the making of a basic bar magnet made of Alnico, which is a metallic alloy of aluminum, nickel, iron and cobalt. First, the factory creates a mold for the magnet. This will determine the magnet’s overall shape. The mold is then coated with a sandy layer that helps in removal — it works much like non-stick cooking spray. Next, the molten metal is poured into the mold. The metal is allowed to harden, or cool, inside a magnetic field provided by a large electromagnet. Since it cools in that magnetic field, the metal’s atoms and domains align magnetically with the field. At this point, the metal bar, now fully magnetized, is removed from the mold and undergoes a polishing, finishing and inspection process. Finally, the magnets are painted, boxed, and then shipped. This basic process is the same for most types of magnets.

Magnets can lose their magnetic properties if you heat or vibrate the domains to cause the atoms to revert to a random arrangement. This is commonly achieved by either heating or hitting the magnet. The first method makes use of a magnet’s Curie temperature. This temperature signifies the thermal limit for the atoms to retain their magnetic alignment. At the microscopic level, the magnet’s domains are all aligned. Heating them gives them more kinetic energy causing them to move around more and more. If you get them moving fast enough, they will vibrate out of alignment. The Curie temperature varies due to differences in atomic makeup of a substance. Here are the Curie temperatures for five ferromagnetic elements: cobalt=1,130 degrees C; iron=770 degrees C; nickel=358 degrees C; gadolinium=16 degrees C; and dysprosium=-188 degrees C. As you can tell with cobalt’s Curie temperature, you will have to heat a cobalt magnet over 10 times hotter than boiling water.

Hitting a magnet with a hammer or dropping it on the floor can demagnetize it.

Special thanks to Ron Grove of the Arnold Engineering Company in Marengo, Illinois.

Question/ Purpose:

What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.

The purpose of this project is to understand how magnets work and to learn how to create your own magnet.

If you need to study on a more specific question, or if you are required to have a results table and graph for your experiment, this is how you can expand your question/purpose.

I would also like to know which metals can be magnetized, or which one makes a stronger magnet.

Identify Variables:

When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.

The independent variable is the type of metal that we try to magnetize. Possible values are soft iron, steel, brass, aluminum, and copper.

The dependent variable is the strength of produced magnet (Either it gets magnetized or not). You can measure the strength by the number of small nails that your magnet can lift.

Controlled variables are the magnetization method, time and size of metals.


Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis.

My hypothesis is that iron and it’s alloys can become magnetized if they are placed in a magnetic field for a while. The magnetic field can be from another magnet or electromagnet.

Test this hypothesis in experiment 3.

Experiment Design:

Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”

Experiment 1: – Make a Simple Magnet

In this experiment we want to see if a regular nail can be magnetized.


  • Nail
    Strong magnet
    Sewing needle
    Cup of water


  1. Hold up a nail and a paperclip and ask yourself whether the two items are magnetic.
  2. Bring the nail and paperclip together, and prove that there is no magnetic force between the two. (Allow the nail and paperclip to fall to the ground to show this.)
  3. The atoms in the nail and the paperclips are disorganized, and that, in order for them to produce a magnetic force, the atoms must be arranged in the same direction instead of random order.
  4. Stroke the nail or the paperclip with the magnet, making sure that you move the magnet in the same direction. You will need to stroke the nail or the paperclip for about 45 seconds.
  5. By stroking with the magnet in one direction the random order of the atoms is rearranged into an organized pattern.
  6. Bring the nail and the paperclip together once again, and you will notice that the nail has become magnetized.

Experiment 2: Make an electromagnet

An electromagnet is a device that produces magnetic forces using electricity.

To make electromagnet you need a 6 volts battery. Hardware stores sell special 6 volts batteries known as lantern battery. You can also connect 4 flashlight batteries using a battery holder to get 6 volts.

List of material including optional items is here:

  • Battery Holder (for 2 or 4 flashlight batteries of any size)
  • Insulated wire (Gage 24, also known as thermostat wire)
  • One Iron nail (2″ or 3″) or similar metal rod.
  • A strong magnet.
  • Some Iron filings, pins or paper clips to test the magnet.
  • A small compass to test the magnet poles.

Can electricity create magnet?
Get some magnet wire and wrap it around a nail about 500 to 1000 turns. Connect the two ends of the wire to the battery set. Use some paper clips to see if your nail is magnetized. What you have made is an electromagnet.

Magnet wire is a regular copper wire with a thin coating of an insulating material. You need to remove the coating from both ends of your wire in order to create a good contact with your battery poles (Or battery holder wires). The coating of magnetic wire is a special type of resin that can be removed by scratching with a sharp object or sand paper. You should get a good result if you have wrapped your magnet wire at least 20 times or more around the nail.
Now use a compass or another magnet with marked poles. Test to see which side of the nail is the North Pole and which side is the South Pole of your magnet. Switch the battery poles and see if it affects the North/South Poles of your magnet. You can also change the direction of the wrapping of the wire to see the effect of that on North and South Poles of your electromagnet.

Most nails will become a permanent magnet after such experiment. In other words a strong magnetic field created by the coil and the battery can make a permanent magnet.

So remove the coil of wire from around the nail and see if the nail has enough magnetic force to lift a small paper clip or a small needle.

You can try different types of nail and compare the results.

Another way of making magnet, is rubbing a nail with a strong magnet. That can also make the nail a magnet. As a mater of fact, even bring a strong magnet close to a nail for a few seconds, that can also give some magnetic properties to the nail. For this reason, many nails and other metal objects around you may already have some magnetic properties.

Experiment 3: Which metal makes a better magnet?


In this experiment same size rods of different metals will be placed as the core of an electromagnet for 30 seconds. We will then test to see which metal is magnetized or which one is a stronger magnet. This experiment can be done on 2 or more metals of your choice. In the following procedure we are testing only 3 metals.


  1. Samples of same size metal rods. If you can not find same size metal rods, try to select the sizes as close as possible to each other. Metal rods and nails are sold in hardware stores.
  2. Iron filings or small nails.
  3. Magnet wire (AWG 27) or any other thin insulated solid wire (about 100 feet)
  4. one 6-volt battery


  1. Get 3 identical metal rods of 3 different types (Iron, aluminum, brass)
  2. Wrap 200 turns of magnet wire around each rod. The wire will form a coil and the metal rod will be the core of the electromagnet.
  3. Remove the insulation from one inch of each end of wires.
  4. Connect the two ends of each wire to a 6 volt battery for 30 seconds.
  5. Unwind the wires and test the metals for their magnetic forces. Find out how many small nails or how much iron filings can be lifted using each metal rod.
  6. Write your results in a table like this. In one column write the name of metal. In the other column write the number of small nails that can be lifted using each metal rod after being in a magnetic field.
    Metal Name Magnetic Force
  7. Use the above result table to make a bar graph. Each bar will represent one of the metals that you are testing. The height of each bar represents the number of small nails that can be lifted by each metal. For example you may draw a 3″ bar for the metal rod that can lift 3 nails.

Materials and Equipment:

List of material can be extracted from the experiment design.

Results of Experiment (Observation):

Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.


No calculation is required.

Summary of Results:

Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.

It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.


Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.

Related Questions & Answers:

What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

Possible Errors:

If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.

If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.