Magnetism: The Attraction is Clear

Project aims:

The aim was to excite and inspire young people about magnetism and illustrate how it is exploited in everyday life.


1. To illustrate that a magnet is a material that produces a magnetic field.

2. To explain why only certain materials are magnetic.

3. To illustrate that although magnetic fields are invisible, we can see their effect on iron filings or ferrofluid for example.

4. Illustrate how magnets are used in everyday items.

Summary of activity:

I set up a display with a variety of interactive demonstrations.
1. I began with a magnetic fishing task where all of the items were metallic but only some were magnetic and invited people to fish things out.
2. I had a variety of magnets for people to use with some iron filings and jars of ferrofluid to see the effect of the magnetic field.
3. I had a magnetic levitation device which levitates a spinning top and could use this to help describe the MagLev trains.
4. I built a magnetic marble launcher which accelerated and collided a series of steel balls to finally launch one at a target. This also illustrated concepts of potential and kinetic energy and transfer of momentum.

Evaluation approach:

I used short feedback forms for people to fill out, consisting of a series of checkboxes to rate the activity and a space for people to write what they learned. Younger participants could draw what they learned instead if that was more appropriate.

What went well:

1. The ball bearing launcher was extremely popular and I noticed a number of people visited the display multiple times throughout the day.

2. I'm pleased that I had a lot of different activities as it was very busy and lots of people could get involved at a given time.

3. I brought a number of different magnetic toys with me (e.g. 'rattlesnake eggs') which worked well for the younger participants.

What was learned:

1. I learned to ensure all materials are robust enough to withstand handling by very energetic children.

2. I would have liked to have 3 demonstrators rather than 2 as it was very busy at times.

3. Next time would bring real examples of everyday objects rather than just pictures o help illustrate the importance of magnetism.

Top tips and advice for others

1. Ensure all materials are robust against heavy handling and safe for small hands.

2. Ensure you have enough demonstrators if there is high demand

3. Prepare to be tired at the end!

About this project


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  • About the contributor

    Kerry O'Shea
    University of Glasgow

    I am currently a postdoctoral researcher with a long-term interest in science outreach. I recently became a STEM ambassador and am looking forward to doing more outreach activities in the future.…

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