Explore the forces of gravity and magnetism, and learn how they each work with this fun experiment where paperclips appear to float in the air!
Did You Know
Gravity is the force of attraction between two masses. It tries to pull two objects toward each other. Earth’s gravity is what keeps you on the ground. It also causes objects to fall, and is the reason why they fall down (instead of up)!
Did You Know
Magnetism is a force of attraction (pulling together) or repulsion (pushing apart) between a magnet and an object containing metal, like a paperclip.
Did You Know
Gravity and magnetism are both examples of non-contact forces because they act on objects from a distance.
Let's Use Magnetism to Make Paperclips that Defy Gravity
- Small stick
- Strong magnets
- Metal ruler (or wooden/plastic ruler with tape)
- Blocks, books, or other material for stacking
Use scissors to cut three short (approximately 20 cm) sections of string. Tie a paperclip to one end of each one of the strings. Then, tie the strings onto a small rod, or stick.
Lift up the stick so the paperclips hang from the strings, and notice the direction that they point. Now, try tilting the stick, and see what happens! They should all still point downwards due to the force of gravity!
Next, we’ll use magnets to explore how gravity can be overcome by other forces. Place three magnets along a metal ruler. If you are using a wooden or plastic ruler you can tape the magnets to the top instead.
Suspend the ruler between two even stacks of blocks, books or other materials. Be sure the magnets are hanging down.
Take the paperclips and string off your stick, but be sure to keep the paperclips attached to the string.
Take one paperclip and hold it below the first magnet. The magnet should pull the paperclip towards it, but don’t let them touch! Instead, hold the paperclip by the string just below the magnet until it appears to hover there. Tape the string in place onto the table (or whatever surface you’re doing your activity on). Do this with the other two paperclips as well, until they all appear to hover in midair!
What do you think will happen if you removed the ruler above the paper clips? Make a prediction!
Now, remove the ruler and see what happens!
The paperclips should fall back onto the table.
The STEM Behind the Fun
Defying Gravity with Magnetic Force
In this activity, the paperclips were able to appear as if they were floating in the air thanks to magnetic force.
The magnetic force between the paperclips and the magnets was stronger than the pull of Earth’s gravity on the paperclips. This is why they were able to stay in the air instead of falling back to the ground.
Magnetic force isn’t the only one that can help an object to defy gravity though. For example, static electricity can hold strands of hair straight up into the air.
Now that’s some hair-raising fun!