Welcome to practical physicsPracticle physics - practical activities designed for use in the classroom with 11 to 19 year olds

Making a permanent magnet

Class practical

Using a current-carrying coil of wire to make a permanent magnet from a steel rod.

Apparatus and materials

For each student group

Copper wire, PVC-covered, 150 cm with bare ends

Iron filings

Rod, hard steel

Tintacks or paper clips, supply of

De-magnetizing coil (300 turns or 2400 turns)

Transformer or low-voltage AC supply

Power supply, low-voltage ('Westminster pattern' very-low-voltage supplies are best)

Health & Safety and technical notes

Read our standard health & safety guidance

The steel rod may be a knitting needle or a piece of clock spring. As a poor substitute, short pieces of thick piano wire can be used.

Make sure the hard steel samples are not magnetized. If any are, de-magnetize them by passing them slowly through a coil carrying AC: for the 300-turn coil, use about 6 V AC: for the 2,400-turn coil, use about 20 V AC.



Making a permanent magnet

a Use iron filings or a plotting compass to check that the steel rod is not magnetised before proceeding

b Wind a few dozen turns of insulated wire around the steel rod. (Leave enough wire free at either end to make connections to the power supply.)

c Connect the ends of the wire to the low-voltage DC power supply, so that a large current flows round the coil.

d Switch off the current. Test the steel rod again to see if it has become magnetised.
e Determine where the rod's magnetic poles are.
f Devise a method for magnetising the rod in the other direction.


Teaching notes

Making a permanent magnet

4 How Science Works Extension: Students can make a magnet (by this method, or by the stroking method) and then test its strength. This requires them to devise and evaluate an approach to measuring the strength of a magnet. Here are some suggestions:

  • Find how many pins, tacks or paper clips will hang end-to-end from the magnet.
  • Lay a pin on the table. Gradually bring the magnet towards it. Measure the distance at which the pin starts to move.
  • Place a plotting compass on the table. Bring the magnet towards it from the side (east or west). Measure the distance at which the compass needle points at 45° to its original direction. 

Students should be able to think of other ideas. By trying out several, they can evaluate the sensitivity of each.

This experiment was safety-checked in July 2007


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