Tag Archives: Electricity

Electricity, Magnets, Motors & Batman

Building something and making it move can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! While building an engine to power a car is a rather complicated task, some motors can be made with just a couple of simple supplies that you can pick up at the hardware store!

What you see in the video is called a Homopolar Motor. The name means that polarity of the motor never switches, which isn’t surprising considering that you’ve probably never see a battery’s ends suddenly switch places. The science that powers this motor is really cool and teaches a neat lesson about electricity and magnetism! To find out how it works, lets take a look at the setup in the video one more time:

Simple Cropped

First lets identify the parts. At the bottom is a very strong magnet, known as a neodymium magnet. This magnet produces a magnetic field–the thing that allows magnets to interact without touching one another. On top of that, there is a battery. Simple. Finally, there is the wire. The wire sits on the top of the positive terminal of the battery, and comes down and just barely touches the magnet on the bottom.

Labeled Parts

The wire is touching both the positive terminal and the neodymium magnet. The magnet is a conductor and is attached to the negative terminal of the battery. This means the two terminals are connected by a conductor and electricity starts to flow! Electricity is just the movement of charged particles. However, the electricity is flowing through an area with a magnetic field from the battery! There is a force known as the Lorentz Force that occurs whenever this situation arises. Mathematically, it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.35.23 AM

This looks like simple multiplication, but the letters have funny hats. This means they are vectors, which means that they include a direction. This makes multiplying them more complex as the product depends not only on the numbers, but how the directions relate to one another. While this can be confusing, the diagram below includes the current (or moving charges), the magnetic field, and the resulting force. See how it pushes the wire in a circle?


As you have seen in the video above, the picture can get more complicated than this. The wire can be in any shape you can dream up. As long as at least one end of the wire touches the magnet at the bottom, electricity will flow and the motor will move! As far as these motors are concerned, the science is pretty cool, but creativity is the real hero!

Batman cropped

Water Bending: Fun with Static Electricity

Electricity is everywhere! That isn’t a joke. Electricity is simply the movement of electrons. Electrons are found in atoms which make up all of the molecules in our bodies, and they are seldom staying still. Getting a bunch of electrons moving the right way to do something useful is more difficult, which is why we haven’t found primitive iPads with fossils of dinosaurs.

That said, electricity can be difficult to describe and understand. Most of us have probably felt electricity in some way. Have you ever shuffled across the carpet in your socks and ran over to one of your friends (or siblings!) in the hopes of giving them a tiny shock? That is actually exactly the same thing that is happening in this video!

To get an understanding of how this works requires delving down into the tiny world of atoms. An atom is made up of three parts: protons, neutrons, and electrons. In an atom, the protons and neutrons live in the center in something called the nucleus. Whizzing around them are the tiny electrons.

These things interact by something called a “charge”. A charge can be either positive (+), negative (-), or neutral (0). Neutral objects don’t have a charge, and don’t interact with other charges. They just hang out. When it comes to the charges, opposites attract! Positive and negative charges are always pulled towards each other. When like charges get together, they repel, or push away. When a whole bunch of like charges get together, they jump away and make lightning!


Electrons are very easy to move around. They are so tiny that you can’t see them, and almost impossibly light. When a balloon is rubbed against someone’s hair or clothing (or socks on the carpet), bunches of electrons get piled onto the balloon. This is because the electrons on the thin fibers of these materials are not held very tightly.


This means that a bunch of electrons are all next to each other. Water is a pretty simple molecule H2O that has a negative side and a positive side. When the water is brought close to the balloon, the negative side of the water molecule is pushed away from the balloon, and the positive side is pulled towards it. Now the positive side of the water molecule is closer to the negative charge on the balloon. What do these opposite charges do? Attract!



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