Simple and nice how-to on building an electromagnet from Science Bob. Try making this special kind of magnet at home from things you may already have around the house. You will need: A large iron nail (about 3 inches), about 3 feet of THIN COATED copper wire, a fresh D size battery and some paper clips. Good project for the young MAKErs. Link.
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The second-to-last sentence of this project’s page, “NEVER get the wires of the electromagnet near at household outlet!”, reminded me of a story from My Youth: When I was about 11 or 12 I made a simple motor out of nails and copper wire, along the lines of the project at http://www.eas.asu.edu/~holbert/wise/dcmotor.htm. However, MY motor wouldn’t work. I tried re-winding the wires, re-checking the coil directions, re-sanding the contacts, adjusting the balance of the rotor. It just wouldn’t run! Finally, in frustration, I took away the battery and connected the leads to a power plug, and plugged the damn thing into a wall outlet.
Not surprisingly, things happened, all within about one hundrenth of a second: The rotor made a sudden move to one of the poles, there was flash of blue light and a “BZZZT” sound, little droplets of molten copper flew everywhere, and all the lights in the house went out.
I was very lucky not to get molten copper in my eyes or on my skin (it did burn little holes in my clothing), and that I didn’t start a fire and burn the house down. I also was lucky that my mother didn’t know why lights all went out – I actually got points for knowing how to ‘fix’ the house electrity for her!
Next time, I’ll tell the story about how I was lucky I didn’t burn the house down or blind myself – only this time doing a chemistry experiment…