Home learning focus
Learn about electromagnets.
This lesson includes:
- one video
- one activity to enhance learning.
When an electric current flows in a wire, it creates a magnetic field around the wire.
This effect can be used to make an electromagnet.
A simple electromagnet comprises a length of wire turned into a coil and connected to a battery or power supply.
You can make an electromagnet stronger by doing these things:
- wrapping the coil around a piece of iron (such as an iron nail)
- adding more turns to the coil
- increasing the current flowing through the coil
There is a limit to how much current can be passed safely through the wire because the resistance of the wire causes heating.
Watch how Dr Yan makes a powerful electromagnet by wrapping copper wire around pieces of iron and attaching a small battery in this video.
Electromagnets have some advantages over permanent magnets. For example:
- they can be turned on and off
- the strength of the magnetic field can be varied
These properties make electromagnets useful for picking up scrap iron and steel in scrapyards.
The magnetic field of an electromagnet
The magnetic field around an electromagnet is just the same as the one around a bar magnet. It can, however, be reversed by reversing the current (turning the battery around).
Test your knowledge of electromagnets with this quiz.
There's more to learn
Have a look at these other resources around the BBC and the web.