Magnetism: DIY Magnetic Compass

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M for Magnetism

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In general, learning magnetism is mostly about the magnetic poles and magnetic field. However, a fundamental understanding of how the Earth is a giant magnet and how it’s magnetic field influences objects on Earth is important and should form the basis of learning magnetism. Making a DIY magnetic compass can be an interesting way to practically see how Earth behaves like a magnet.

Tips to introduce to children

  • This experiment would require children to have a fair idea about the properties of magnets.
  • Allowing children enough to explore magnets either through study magnets or magnetic toys is recommended so that they understand how magnets behave.
  • Once they know what magnets do, gradually expand their visualization of magnets from small magnets to larger ones and then finally up to the size of the Earth.
  • It can be bizarre for children the first time they are asked to imagine Earth as a big magnet. There can arise a plenty of questions and it’s important that we address their questions and take the discussion without rushing into concepts.
  • Magnetic compass is another essential tool that children need to be familiar with before beginning this activity. Exploring a working magnetic compass is a nice idea before getting to work on the DIY magnetic compass model.
  • Collect the things needed and when you are at the experiment venue, explain to them what you are going to do without revealing what you are likely to observe.
  • Set it up and let them observe what happens!

Things you’ll need

  • A big bowl of water
  • A magnet
  • A needle/nail
  • Leaves/plastic plate

How do you do it?

  1. Sensitize the tip of a nail or needle by rubbing it against a magnet. Make sure to use only one end of the magnet, either the North pole or the South pole.
  2. Place the needle on a leaf or a plastic plate such that the leaf/plastic plate can freely float on a bowl of water.
  3. Observe what happens.

The Science behind

You’ll observe that the needle when placed on the leaf immediately turns its direction (along with the leaf). If you know the directions of your space or can check with a magnetic compass, you’ll observe that if the needle was sensitized at the North pole of the magnet, it will turn toward Earth’s geographical North and vice versa.

Note: Earth’s magnetic North is at the geographic South and Earth’s magnetic South is at the geographic North.

Share your experience

Did you try? Did it work? Leave a word in the comment section. I would love to hear!

Here’s the full list of DIY Science Experiments in this series:

A for Air – Does Air has Weight?

B for Buoyancy – Can Egg float on Salt Water?

C for Capillary action – Rainbow Walking

D for Density – 3 Layer Density Experiment

E for Earth & Moon – Why does the Moon change its shape?: Phases of the Moon

F for Fire – Does Fire need Oxygen to Burn?

G for Gravity – Defying Gravity

H for Hot Vs Cold – DIY Water Temperature Experiment for Kids

I for Inside the Eye – How to see your Eye Blood Vessels?!

J for Jelly Egg – How to make a bouncy egg?

K for Kinetic and Potential Energy – The Science of Dominoes

L for Light & Lens – How to burn a paper using a Convex Lens?

M for Magnetism – DIY Magnetic Compass

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