Energy and Thermal Physics

Strange Attraction

Enrichment Activity for 5-11 11-14

What you need

  • Four or more small magnets
  • String or strong thread
  • Sticky tape
  • A horizontal rod e.g. a pencil
  • A flat surface


  1. Fix the rod in place and hang one magnet from it to make a pendulum. (Keep magnets away from toddlers!)
  2. Tape the rest down in an equal-sided pattern e.g. a triangle or square
  3. With the pendulum very close to the magnets, give it a gentle push. Try changing its starting point, or swinging it harder

Results and Explanation

The pendulum will move weirdly, maybe reversing or hanging around one magnet before settling above another. A slight change to how you start it off will make a big difference to where it ends up.

Gravity, the magnetic attractions and pushes on the string work together in complicated ways so that it’s very difficult to predict how the pendulum will swing or where it will settle, even though it’s following the laws of physics.

These experiments have not been specifically safety tested for home use but we believe them to be safe if the instructions are followed. Adult supervision or direction is recommended as appropriate. All experiments are carried out at your own risk.

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