Force
Forces and Motion | Electricity and Magnetism

Paperclips

Classroom Activity for 11-14 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

The purpose of this activity is to get pupils thinking and talking about the nature of gravitational and magnetic forces.

What to Prepare

  • Some metal paperclips, a piece of Blu-Tak or plasticine
  • A strong magnet (You will need a very strong magnet for a string of paperclips.)
  • A wooden stand and clamp, if available

What Happens During this Activity

This might be a demonstration accompanied by a gather-round discussion. With enough magnets it is an interesting challenge for pupils.

A string of paperclips is hung from a clamp-stand so that the lowest clip is just not in contact with the bench. A gap of about 1 centimetre remains. Next to this is a magnet held in place by a clamp. From the table a string of paperclips rises, attracted to the magnet and attached to the bench by Blu-Tak. Again there is a gap of about 1 centimetre between the top clip and the magnet.

This sets the scene for a discussion about the forces acting on the paperclips. The force acting in each case is a non-contact force. A sheet of paper can be passed carefully through the gaps and the paperclips remain in place. Hence both magnetic and gravity forces act through paper.

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