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Suit Yourself™ International Magazine #25: How To Find A Lost Earring With Magnets

  

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Suit Yourself™ International Magazine #25:  How To Find A Lost Earring With Magnets

 

This is the 25th in our articles series and I hope this information is helpful!

All previous articles in the series can be found in our Library and in the Magazine Archives.  Upon request, reprint permission and an addendum of substantiating resources are available for all magazine articles. When requesting reprint permission or addenda, please include the issue date and full issue title. All magazine articles are copyright © Debra Spencer, Suit Yourself ™ International. All rights reserved. ISSN 2474-820X. 

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HOW TO FIND A LOST EARRING WITH MAGNETS

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Engraving, 1780.

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Have you ever dropped a ring or earring or assembly screw somewhere around the house, behind a sofa, or even down a drain? If you have, then you know how frustrating it is to try and search for it.  Here's a way to help you get it back.

Does what you've lost or dropped contain a metal part? Do you have access to the location where it was lost or dropped?

You may or may not know that you can readily and easily find anything you've lost or dropped nearby that's small, metal, and ferromagnetic, and without an expensive metal detector. 

Why not try a magnet?  If you don't have a magnet handy, you can make one yourself, with a little battery, iron nail, and some wire. It's called an electromagnet.

Magnets help you find metal stuff you've lost or dropped. You can  safely make electromagnets at home, by yourself, and make them as short or long as you want, so they can reach under and into otherwise unreachable places. They're cheap, quick, safe (really!), 'all natural', 'gluten-free', and hypoallergenic, and the parts you need are usually not make in factories that contain nuts.
 

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QUICK MAGNET HISTORY

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Le dessin est emprunté au Catalogue of Physical Apparatus 1846.

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The Ancients know about magnetization from lodestone, a naturally occurring piece of magnetic iron oxide. In ancient myths, Zeus had Prometheus apparently chained to a loadstone with magnetic unbreakable chains of 'adamant', as part of Prometheus's punishment for stealing, on behalf of humans, the knowledge of fire, chemistry, and metallurgy.   

You can see some lodestones here:
http://physics.kenyon.edu/EarlyApparatus/Electricity/Lodestone/Lodestone.html

On 10 May, 1752, Benjamin Franklin performed his experiment on atmospheric electricity, staying under a shed to protect himself from the rain. He was attempting to show that atmospheric electricity was the same as common electricity.  According to his report, he'd almost decided the experiment had failed when he noticed that the fibers of the kite-string were standing up. He touched his knuckles to a metallic key he'd attached to the end of the string, and received a strong spark, and after receiving other sparks, he charged a Leiden jar with the electric fluid from the cloud. Fortunately for those of us wearing bifocals and using lightening rods, he didn't kill himself, however experimenter Georg Wilhelm Richmann of St. Petersburg did, when he conducted the same experiment the following year. So don't try this one by yourself at home. 

Before 1820, artificial magnets were made by stroking iron or steel with lodestone, a number of more or less efficacious methods being devised.  The discovery of the fact that an electric current gives rise to a magnetic field led to the method of magnetizing iron now adopted. If a piece of iron is placed in the interior of an elongated coil or spiral of wire (a solenoid) carrying a current, the iron becomes magnetized. If the current ceases to flow, or if the iron is removed from the coil, the magnetization decreases, but a certain amount is retained depending on the "retentivity" of the specimen. 

As early as 1820, François Arago noted that electric currents made nearby iron needles magnetic. By 1825, William Sturgeon had carefully inserted a horseshoe-shaped iron core in a helix of bare copper wire, passed a current through the helix, and demonstrated that the core became a magnet. He then insulated some wire with cotton thread, so he could use a greater number of turns for the wire, and produced a stronger magnet. It was so easy, everyone started making electromagnets, competing with variations to discover which version was the best. 

The magnetic effect depends on the product of the current and the number of turns of the wire. Sturgeon, looking for strength, wound his iron with relatively few turns of large wire, and got the greatest current, which was limited mainly by the internal resistance of the battery.  He also found that the greatest forces were produced when the iron formed a closed loop with only the minimum necessary air gap, which is, in fact, a closed magnetic circuit of low magnetic resistance. 

As early as 1831, Joseph Henry, among others, made magnets with many turns of relatively fine wire, maximizing this quantity instead of the current.  Many cells of battery could then be used in series, since the current wouldn't be limited by their internal resistance, but by the resistance of the winding around the iron, and only a small current could exert strong forces. These were called intensity magnets, working with high voltages, rather than the earlier quantity magnets that worked with high currents. 

You can see some of these early electromagnets here:
http://physics.kenyon.edu/EarlyApparatus/Electricity/Electromagnet/Electromagnet.html

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Fig. 39. Électro-aimant en fer à cheval, 1831.

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Magnets made possible the electromagnetic telegraph, introduced commercially around 1845.  To send information before that, the world relied on messengers, usually on horseback, and beacons, using signal fire chains and watchtower beacon chains. Really. Telegraphs were known to the ancients, but all the messages had to be prearranged for the earlier methods to work.  Using prearranged signals, Leo The Mathematician (790-870) established an optical telegraph from Tarsus to Constantinople to warn of Arab attacks.  The optical telegraph was the only effective predecessor to the electromagnetic telegraph; Chappe's optical telegraph dated only from 1794, and was for official messages only. Before that, there was no rapid communication at all, and intelligence travelled at the speed of a galloping horse.

The electromagnetic telegraph operates on a straightforward principle: a transmitter opens and closes an electric circuit at one point. The receiver uses the electric current at any other point in the closed circuit to establish a magnetic field, the forces arising from which cause some observable mechanical effect. 

By 1850, the United States and Britain were using the electromagnetic telegraph; it spread to the European continent, having crossed under the Channel in that year, and by 1870 formed a world-wide telecommunications system. It was cheap, reliable, fast, and weather independent, and it spread more quickly than today's Internet. And just like today's Internet, some of the earliest adopters were swindlers hoping to gain an information-time-secret business advantage.

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NASA Studying Magnetic Reconnection Near Earth.

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Our material world consists of very small objects, tiny configurations of matter smaller even than atoms, that strongly pull and push on each other, and these 'objects' possess a property we call 'charge'. 

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Atomic Ping Pong Four Clover Trade Off.

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Our understanding of charge continues to deepen and evolve, as magnetism, electricity, electrostatics, electromagnetic force, magnetic levitation, interactions between various configurations of matter, unusual properties due to changes in altitude, pressure, temperature, applied fields, etc.  I hope this tiny foray into a practical use for magnets helps convey some of the wonder inherent in our world.

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Magnetic Levitation, Bonsai Tree.

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Follow the instructions below, to make a really cool, safe, and endlessly useful little electromagnet, and find what you've lost.  


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WHAT YOU NEED

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L=Electromagnet, Electromagnetic Coil, and Permeability.

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1. A fresh working battery.

2. Some insulated copper wire; I use about ten feet (three meters) of 22 gauge insulated, stranded copper wire. 

3. A good sized iron nail, the larger the better, but any nail containing iron can do for starters.
    
4. Some small METAL paper clips or staples to test the connection of the battery to the wire.

 

 

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TIME

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Magnetic Hourglass.

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How much time will this take? The first time you do this takes the longest, because you're assembling the parts and learning how to do it. Once you've done it, it requires less than one minute. 
 

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INSTRUCTIONS & CAVEATS

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The instructions are precise and work when followed. Before beginning, take the time to read them carefully, thoroughly, and more than once.  You may or may not understand why they are this way, so don't make substitutions until you're certain you thoroughly understand the principles behind what you're doing. Mother Nature doesn't cheat and neither should you. Knowing how something works is vastly different from fully comprehending why it works the way it does;  there's precious little about which we understand both, and we've been working on them since we got here.

Electromagnetism is a force of nature. It's truly awesome, and like gravity, it works whether or not you believe in it, and whether or not you follow instructions. 


1. Be sure the battery you use is a fresh working battery.

One or more D-cell batteries, or a block flashlight Duracell battery, will work best, but even a few 9 volt batteries will work in a pinch! Test the battery by using it in something first, to be sure it works, or check out the terminals with a VU Meter.
 

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Use The VU Meter To Test The Batteries.

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2. Be sure the nail you use is iron. 

For a serious electromagnet, I use a six-inch long (15 cm) rather thick iron nail.  There are tons of different nails out there, however today's nails are typically made of steel, which is an alloy of iron and other elements, primarily carbon. They're often dipped or coated to prevent corrosion in harsh conditions or to improve adhesion, and their iron content varies; you may have to experiment to find the best ferromagnetic nail for this.

Test your nail with a real permanent magnet; if the magnet doesn't stick to it, you need a different nail.  Nail thickness also makes a difference because so long as the nail contains iron, a thicker nail can make a stronger magnet.  If the nail is made from a non-ferrous combination, it won't make a good electromagnet.

The word 'ferrous' is an adjective indicating the presence of iron in something. Magnets will stick to, or 'find', ferrous metals and ferrous metal alloys. Likewise, a non-ferrous metal is any metal, or metal alloy, lacking an appreciable amount of iron.  'Ferrous' comes from the Latin word FERRUM which means iron. 

Magnets attract, or 'find', or 'search out', ferrous metals, such as iron, nickel, cobalt, and certain steels, and also alloys containing ferrous metals.  However, non-ferrous metals and non-ferrous alloys don't contain iron and won't attract magnets; magnets won't 'find' them. Non-ferrous examples include brass, aluminum, copper, and most stainless steels.

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Rainbow Bar Magnets.

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3. Strip the insulation off each end of the wire.

For a serious electromagnet, I use about ten feet (three meters) of 22 gauge insulated, stranded copper wire. Use a pair of wire strippers or some similar tool to remove eight to ten centimeters (three to four inches) of insulation from each end of the wire.  The 'insulation' is the plastic tubular coating surrounding the wire.  Don’t cut the wire; just cut off the insulation.  Some of the copper wire needs to be exposed so it and the battery can make a good electrical connection. 

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Stranded copper lamp cord, 16 gauge.

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4.  Wrap the wire around the nail, creating a solenoid.  

Wrap the copper wire around the shaft of the nail as tightly as you can, covering approximately 70% of the shaft.  The wire should be wrapped so the coils are flush against the surface of the nail shaft, and the coils should touch but not overlap. The more wire coils you wrap around the nail, and the tighter you wrap them, the stronger your electromagnet will be. Make certain to leave enough wire unwound at each end so that you can attach the battery. This tightly wound wire around the nail that you're making here is called a solenoid.  

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Wrap the wire carefully around the nail; more wraps, more resistance, stronger field.

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5. Always wrap the wire in the same direction. 

Yes, this matters; there's a reason for it. If you wrap the wire in different directions, the electricity will flow in different directions, and you won't create a magnetic field. 

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Always Wrap The Wire In The Same Direction.

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A changing electric field generates a magnetic field, and vice versa, a changing magnetic field generates an electric field; there's a reciprocal relationship. Each determines the other's orientation.  Energy moves due to a directed flow created between oppositely charged 'poles'.  An electromagnetic field has an inherent 'polarity' and the direction of a magnet field depends on the direction of the electric current that's creating it. 

By wrapping the nail with the wire always running in the same direction, the electricity will flow in only one direction along the wire, and create the magnetic field.  If you could see the magnetic field, moving around a wire that has electricity flowing through it, it would look like a series of circles radiating around the wire. 

If an electric current is flowing directly towards you, the magnetic field created by it circles around the wire in a counter-clockwise direction. If the direction of the electric current is reversed, flowing directly away from you, the magnetic field reverses also and circles the wire in a clockwise direction.

If you wrap some of the wire around the nail in one direction, but then wrap some of the wire in the other direction, the magnetic fields from the different sections are produced in contradicting directions and they'll work against each other, essentially fighting each other with nobody winning - they each can cancel out the other, and reduce the strength of your magnet.

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Magnetic Fields, Wrapping The Wire In The Same Direction On A Screwdriver Instead Of A Nail.

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6. Ready...Set...GO! Now, connect the ends of the wire to the battery.

Assuming you stripped off the insulation from each end of the wire (you removed just the insulation and not the wire inside it), first wrap one end of the wire around the battery terminal labeled 'positive', and then, when you're ready to create flowing current and a magnetic field,  wrap the other end of the wire around the battery terminal labeled 'negative'.

NOTE:  The battery IMMEDIATELY begins conducting electricity through the wire coil the moment you attach the second wire end to the second of the two battery terminals.  The nail will grow hot, so be careful not to burn yourself.
 

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Connect The Ends Of The Wire To The Battery.

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You can wrap or tape the first wire to one of the battery terminals and then just hold the other end to the other terminal, and tape it there quickly.  Alternatively, you can tape one of the raw copper wire ends onto one of the battery terminals with electrical tape if you have some, or plastic tape. And then, hold the other end to the other terminal, and / or  tape it there quickly. 

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Connect The Ends Of The Wire To The Battery, with the wire taped down to only one terminal.

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Touching wire to both poles of the battery causes a “short circuit” that quickly drains the battery of its' power. The current flowing through the wire will heat up the wire (due to resistance).  When the wire is attached at both poles, this may get hot enough to burn your fingers if you are holding both ends of the wire when they are attached to both of the poles.  This is why it's better to wrap or tape the first end before connecting the second. It’s also possible that the load you put on the wire making the solenoid will reduce the heat produced but it's still possible to burn yourself if you're not careful. As electricity passes through a wire, some of the electrical energy is converted to heat and the more current that flows, the more heat is is generated. 

If you're nervous, you can just touch the wire ends to the battery terminals but then you won't have a third hand left over to pick up things like earrings and paperclips with your now active magnet!

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You can just hold the wire so it connects to both terminals, but then you'll need a third hand for the paperclips.

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DON'T WORRY WHICH END IS WHICH; really, don't worry about which end of the wire you attach to the positive terminal of the battery and which one you attach to the negative terminal. Your magnet will work just as well either way, regardless of which terminal you attach first.  

One end of your magnet will be the magnet's north pole and by default, the other end will be the south pole. Reversing the way you connected the wires to the battery will reverse the poles of your electromagnet; this just reverses the direction of the flow, and doesn't otherwise change the flow because it just reverses the poles, i.e. orientation, of your electromagnet.

When you first connect the wire to the battery, the direction of the magnetic field you're creating is established by whichever of the two opposite poles on the battery you choose to connect to first.  Again, energy moves due to a directed flow created between oppositely charged 'poles'; a magnetic field has 'polarity'.  Whichever of the two battery terminals ('poles') you choose to use first, to attach the wire, determines the 'polarity' of the magnetic field. Regardless of the pole you choose first, the nail will become magnetized, however if you swap the wire connections, this switches the poles, and thus the direction of the field flow.

Ideally, what you're doing here is attaching one end of the wire to the positive terminal of the battery and the other end of the wire to the negative terminal of the battery, and if all's gone well, your electromagnet begins working the moment you connect that second wire end to the second of the two battery terminals, and you can use it to find earrings, paperclips, nails, and other ferrous metals. And you disconnect the wires from the battery before the set up gets too hot to handle.
 

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The polarity of the magnet depends on the direction of the current; in other words, the magnet polarity is determined by which of the two battery terminals use first use to connect the wire.

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7. ****** Be careful; this may get hot! ******

Remember:  The battery IMMEDIATELY begins conducting electricity through the wire coil the moment you attach the second wire end to the second of the two battery terminals.  The wire and nail may grow hot, so be careful not to burn yourself.  Disconnect the battery if anything grows too hot. 

I've recommended using 22 gauge insulated, stranded copper wire.  But you can use any gauge wire you want. What you should remember is that more current flowing through the wire may create a 'stronger magnet', but more current flowing through the wire also generates more heat; the 'trade off ' is a hotter system!  Too much current flowing through the wire can be dangerous because as electricity passes through a wire, some of the electrical energy is converted to heat. Doubling the current passing through the wire and the heat generated increases FOUR times. Tripling the current passing through the wire and the heat generated increases NINE times. Don't try to do more with this concept without proper understanding and proper gear because this process can quickly become too hot to handle. Keep in mind what Mother Nature has taught us: Everything in moderation, including moderation. 

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Thin gauge uninsulated copper wire on a spool.

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8. Now, with the wire connected to the battery terminals, try to pick up paper clips with the nail.  

Does it work? 

If it works, move the wrapped nail, connected to the battery, around the location where you lost your earring and see if it can find, and pick up, your earring for you. Once you've found what you're looking for, disconnect the battery from the wire.

This will also 'fetch' anything else ferrous metal. When I'm restoring something on my wood work bench, I use this method to help me find any tiny nails, bits of iron core soldier, and any small bits of metal that may have fallen into the spaces and gaps in the wood. 

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 Industrial application for magnets.

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9. Try this with more wire wrapped around the nail, with thicker and thiner wire, with a thicker or thinner nail, and with a different size battery.  Always wrap the wire in the same direction, as tight as you can, with the coils touching but not overlapping.

Can you pick up more paper clips? 

What happens if you use a thicker or bigger nail? 

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Heavy duty nail, wrapped with heavy gauge wire.

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10. IF THIS DID NOT WORK:   Troubleshooting tips.


Check the battery by trying it in something, or with a VU Meter; be sure the battery you're using is fresh and working. And, be sure the battery inside the VU meter is working!

What size battery is it? Try a bigger battery.
 

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What size battery is it? Try a bigger battery.

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Did you remove just the insulation from the ends of the wire, without also removing the wire?

How many times did you wrap the wire around the nail? If any of the coils are overlapping, change them so they aren't, and try changing the number of wraps and the tightness of the wraps around the nail.

How thick is the gauge of the wire you're using? The thickness (gauge) of the wire can make a difference in how effective your magnet is, as can your battery choice, nail size, the way in which you wrap wire around the nail, and the way you connect the wire to each of the two battery terminals. 

Did you connect each end of the wire to a different terminal on the battery? 

Did the wires stay connected to the different battery terminals? If not, try taping them down, with electrical tape or strong plastic tape.

Is the nail made of iron? Are you sure?  

Test your nail with a real permanent magnet; if the magnet doesn't stick to it, try a different nail! Nail thickness matters; a thicker nail makes a stronger magnet, so long as the nail contains iron or is an iron alloy. If the nail is aluminum, or some other non-ferrous combination, it won't make a good electromagnet. Try a nail made of a different material.

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Did someone eat all the magnets again?

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11. OK,THIS WORKED, BUT WHY?

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Voila! L'onde electromagnetiche; the electromagnetic field. 

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You've just extended the energy power stored inside the battery to flow outside the battery and into a magnetized little handy (pun intended) pointer that can help you find things. You've made an 'electromagnet'.  An electromagnet is a magnet you can turn on and off. Electromagnetic energy is an incredible force. 

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Cats demonstrating transfer and conservation of momentum and energy using Newton's cradle.

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The tightly wound wire around the nail is called a solenoid [sōl-ë-noid]. When an electric current passes through the wrapped wire, it creates a magnetic field in the metal core (the nail). When the wire is wrapped in only one direction around the iron nail, and the battery is strong enough, a magnetic field is created and the device is called an electromechanical solenoid. These electromagnets are useful over short distances and a huge help in locating and picking up small ferromagnetic things; they're as strong as the battery, nail, and wire used to create them.  They're made in powerful formats for industrial applications.

The battery you used is a source of stored energy containing energy with electrons; electrons are charged particles, itty bits of volumes of charged energy of electrostatic potential and electronic repulsion. When you connect the copper wire to the two connectors located on the battery, you form a complete circuit (a “short circuit” ) allowing the electrons in the battery to flow through the wire. And this quickly depletes the energy stored in the battery, because unless you stop the flow, there's nothing to stop the flow. 

If there is no energy source such as a battery, or if there is not a complete circuit, the electrons will not flow. Electromagnets are only magnetic when the electricity is flowing. The electricity flowing through the wire arranges the atoms in the nail so they are attracted to certain metals. Electrons have an angular momentum, called spin, which gives rise to the magnetic field observed in ferromagnetism, where many electrons are all lined up in spin direction.

What you should remember is that there is a trade off between magnetic field strength due to current flow, and the heat this generates.  Too much current passing through a wire can be dangerous because as electricity passes through a wire, some of the electrical energy is converted to heat; the more current that flows through a wire, the more heat is generated. The source of electromagnetic waves is an accelerated electric charge. When a source radiates, it sends energy into the surrounding medium, and so must exert a reaction on the source, the 'radiation reaction', that accounts for the energy transfer. By doubling the current passing through the wire, the heat generated increases FOUR times. If you triple the current passing through the wire, the heat generated increases NINE times. This can quickly become too hot to handle.

NEVER put electromagnetic wires near any household electrical outlet.

 

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NEVER put electromagnetic wires near any household electrical outlet.

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Remember, magnets help you find metal stuff you've lost or dropped. You can safely make electromagnets at home, yourself, cheaply and safely, and doing so helps develop understanding and appreciation for the forces of Nature that are holding together all of life. I hope this tiny foray into a handy and practical use for magnets has helped convey some of this wonder. HAVE FUN!

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I sign our magazine articles "See Into The Invisible". Thanks for reading.

Best Wishes, 
Debra Spencer

All Content is © Debra Spencer, Suit Yourself™ International. Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.
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All Content is ©2019 Debra Spencer, Appanage™at www.suityourself.international Suit Yourself ™ International, 120 Pendleton Point, Islesboro Island, Maine, 04848, USA 44n31 68w91 Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.

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All Content is ©2019 Debra Spencer, Appanage™at www.suityourself.international Suit Yourself ™ International, 120 Pendleton Point, Islesboro Island, Maine, 04848, USA 44n31 68w91 Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.
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