Magnetic Fields

Learn about Earth's magnetic field by experimenting with magnets and iron filings.
Magnetic field lines of the sun shown in teal and red.

Magnet Table - Activity Sign PDF
A self-guided magnet table is a great way to explore positive and negative poles using magnets you already have. To go a step further, this Instructables video shows how to find strong magnets in old electronics. This could be a group recycling activity or done in preparation.

Magnetic Fields on Paper - NOVA activity - Elementary Worksheet - Middle School Worksheet
Sprinkle iron filings on top of a piece of paper with a magnet underneath to discover magnetic fields. Iron filings stick onto magnets and are very hard to remove, so be careful to keep the paper between the magnet and iron filings. Do this with a transparency sheet on a projector for class demonstrations.

3D Magnetic Field Viewer - Activity PDF
Build your own 3D magnetic field viewer from simple materials. A bar magnet emulates the magnetic field of the Earth. The resources section of this activity has links to places you can buy "cow magnets". If you have a local feed store, check for cow magnets!

DIY Iron Filings
Iron filings are an affordable investment in your teaching kits, entirely reusable and a great visual aid. However, it might not be in the budget right now. Here are a couple of different ways to get iron filings from things you might have on hand. Use a dust mask when working with small particles.
1. You can do this the old-fashioned way: hand filing a piece of iron or steel (upgrade your tool to a Dremel for speed and finer filings). Make sure you use proper eye protection.
2. Collect iron particles from the dirt in the environment around you using a strong magnet and a plastic bag. This video shows someone doing this in their yard. 
3. Cut open a hand warmer packet and pour out the contents on a plate. Wait for the contents to finish reacting. When they are cool to the touch take a magnet wrapped in plastic and extract the iron. Remove the magnet from the plastic over a container so the iron particles fall off into the container.

The sun's energy being deflected by Earth's magnetic field.


NASA Space Science Education Consortium logo.This project was funded under NASA cooperative agreement NNX16AL65A. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
All photos from NASA unless otherwise credited.