Magnetism feels like magic! If you’ve ever held two magnets close, they either attract or repel. It feels spooky!
I’m going to show you a cool STEM experiment to impress your kids! Instant magic. It’s easy, I promise. Plus, this skill could help you find your way out of the woods. You’ll be a bad…I mean cool, no matter what!
MATERIALS FOR INSTANT MAGIC : MAGNETS
STEPS TO INSTANT MAGIC : MAGNETS
Use a big one so the leaf doesn’t hit the sides!
Make sure it’s floating.
Do this for a bout 30 seconds or until they run away, whichever comes first!
The magic WILL happen, be patient.
The needle will point north!
VIDEO OF INSTANT MAGIC : STEM SCIENCE EXPERIMENT
Happily, dog saliva did not affect the results!
WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?
Many of us understand that magnets have two different charges, and that opposite charges attract each other and like charges repel each other. This still does not explain how a magnet works.
Here’s an annoying definition: A magnet is any material or object that produces a magnetic field.
What is with the dictionary anyway? They define words with the word they are supposedly trying to define? That is NOT helpful in any way.
The reason magnets work explained with atoms.
No, really, it is!
To make our STEM activity –in the video above– work, we needed to get the electrons to jump from their nice little orbits around their nucleus.
This is hard to do with some atoms. The electrons are snug and tight, paired up and not willing to go anywhere.
If you look at the periodic table below, the elements on the far right (in the white boxes) have filled orbitals. Those electrons aren’t going anywhere without a fight. This makes the elements very stable. ( Noble Gases)
NOT ALL ATOMS ARE CREATED EQUAL : TRANSITION METALS
Lucky for us, many metals are especially prone to electron conductivity AKA MOVEMENT because they have unpaired electrons in their outer orbitals, spinning around their respective nucleus.
Each orbital has room for a certain number of electrons. (Orbitals are like floors of a building. Once they’re full, a new level must be used)
And once an orbital if full, that makes the atom more stable. (Like our Noble Gases) They are tucked in tightly and tend not to spin off/be attracted to another atom.
If the outer orbital only has a few electrons, they aren’t packed as tightly, have more energy to move, and are more prone to hopping off to find a new home. They’re like teeny tiny explorers.
To make matters more complicated (isn’t that always the case?) with Transition Metals, the third level doesn’t necessarily fill before the fourth begins to fill. WHAT?
Some electrons want their own orbit. (anti-social!)
I know, it stinks when I think I’ve got a rule and it gets broken. (and yes, I’m oversimplifying all this) But you get the general idea!
HOW DO WE GET THE ELECTRONS TO MOVE?
There are three ways to produce an electrical charge.
Friction, induction, and contact.
We’ll just concern ourselves with friction today.
Friction promotes the movement of electrons between two different substances.
On an atomic level, essentially one atom is losing electrons. One will become positively charged (because it lost electrons). The other atom becomes negatively charged. (gained electrons)
When atoms are statically electrified, the electrons actually line up and spin in the same direction.
So what is the point, you ask?
Our planet has a magnetic pole, created by molten lead (LEAD AGAIN) and other metals in the earth’s core.
The molten lead moves as the earth moves! This generates electric currents, which produce magnetic fields!
(My arrows aren’t exactly straight…)
Diamagnetic means not attracted to a magnetic field.
And our metal sewing needle full of lined up electrons (because of the friction) aligns itself with the earth’s strong magnetic field.
This is why compass needles point north, no matter which way you turn the compass.
Field lines are a way to visualize the magnetic field around an object.
A lodestone is a piece magnetite, a naturally magnetized metal that attracts iron. The property of magnetism was discovered through lodestones. (FeO4)
Many cultures in the ancient world found lodestones. So discovery of magnetism can’t be pinpointed to any one person.
Lodestone is one of only two minerals that is found naturally magnetized; the other, pyrrhotite, is only weakly magnetic.
Notice the formula for lodestones on the left? They have Fe…we all know which element that is!
How were lodestones formed ?
The most common theory hypothesizes that when iron ore deposits at the surface of the earth are struck by lightning, the electron spin rearranges to match the lightning’s field.
Ancient blacksmiths made magnets in a similar way. The blacksmith on the right is holding a piece of red-hot iron in a north-south direction and hammering it as it cools. The magnetic field of the Earth aligns, leaving the iron a weak magnet.
How did they figure this out?
Spotty wifi connections left them with nothing to do.
Ever wonder how birds migrate so far and find their way? Scientists do, too. The answer is still elusive but it involves MAGNETITE!
Birds, salmon, honeybees and many more animals have magnetite shavings in their brains!
Scientists hypothesize it’s more complex and there may also be a chemical reaction occurring in the eyes of birds.
Birds are cool! They feature in my middle grade fantasy work in progress. To read more about birds, check this post out!
I sure don’t want you to get lost in the woods, but if you do, you’ll be able to find north with this STEM magic. And be cool.
For now, try it out. Impress your kids. Tell them about electrons jumping and lining up!
Then check back with me and tell me how you did!