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Factors affecting an electromagnet

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Raghav Ramabadran


January 15th 2009

Sharbaf Ebrahimi

Design Lab 12: Factors affecting the strength of an Electromagnet


This investigation is focusing on introducing as well as critically analyzing the factors that affect the strength of an electromagnet. In turn, as the factors are being investigated, students have to establish a relationship between the strength of the electromagnet to the number of paperclips that the electromagnet can hold. An electromagnet is a magnet consisting essentially of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a soft iron core that is magnetized only when current flows through the wire. An Electromagnet can be made by taking an iron nail and wrapping it with an insulated wire, as when the current is running through the insulated wire there will be a magnetic field produced by the Electromagnet. Essentially any iron material or metallic material can act as an electromagnet along with a magnet.  If the wire is not insulated, then the nail wrapped around by a normal wire that is not insulated will not work. In addition, a failure is guaranteed if any of the wires are touching each other as the electromagnetic will fail to act properly. As with all other physics concepts, there is a calculation involved. The strength of the electromagnet can be obtained through the formula: B = (μNI)/ L. In this equation, B is the value for the strength of the magnetic field in Tesla (T), μ is a constant which has a value of (4π x 10-7)

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Iron Nail with a constant lengthPaper ClipsPaper and a writing utensil to record the dataAlligator clips to connect the circuit


When keeping the # of turns constant:

  1. Take the nail and coil it around with insulated wire and make sure that the distance between the turns is constant and keep circulating for 7 turns.
  2. Pick out one battery, an Ammeter, and the nail with the coiled wire.
  3. Connect them in a series circuit and check the current. Attempt to add as many paperclips as possible to the iron nail with the insulated wire which is now acting as an electromagnet.
  4. Record the results and add another battery to the series, and check the current. Once again attempt to place as many paperclips as you can on the Electromagnet, and record the results.
  5. Redo steps 3 and 4 by adding more batteries one by one each time, checking the current, and checking how many paperclips the Electromagnet can hold. The maximum and final amount of batteries that should be used is 7.
  6. Now that all the data has been obtained, process the data by drawing a data chart and graph the points. On the graph, draw the line of best fit, and give the graph the title: “Graph to show Current vs. Paperclips graph.”

When keeping the current constant:

  1. Pick up one 1.5 volt battery and form a series circuit connecting the alligator clips from the battery to the wire on the nail.
  2. Start with 7 turns on the nail, as this will be the initial amount of turns on the nail.
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Discussion Questions

  1. Was there any other factors that could be tested for, and if there are what is it and how can it be tested?
  2. What can we conclude from the slopes of both graphs? Explain your reasoning.
  3. What does happen when more turns were coiled onto the nail? Does the amount of paperclips increase or decrease as you add more turns? Explain why it increases or decreases?
  4. What does happen when more current was running around the series circuit? Does the amount of paperclips increase or decrease as you add more current into system? Explain why it increases or decreases?
  5. What types of uncertainties were present in your experiment and how could they be reduced or prevented next time?

Conclusion and Evaluation

Upon completion of the lab, students should have acquired a more than rough idea of how electromagnets work and what factors can be increased/decreased to enhance/increase the intensity of the magnetic field. Students are now asked to write a formal conclusion with proper justification based on interpretation of the data that they have gathered. It is important that students figure out if their hypothesis was correct or not and if not, explain why. As in all labs, it is important to evaluate the weaknesses and limitations of the labs as well as suggesting realistic improvements to increase accuracy and eliminate as many errors as possible.

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This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our International Baccalaureate Physics section.

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