Balancing compass : Fizzics Education


Balancing compass

Follow FizzicsEd 150 Science Experiments:

You will need:

  • A horseshoe magnet (find magnet supplies here)
  • Modelling clay or dough
  • A sharpened pencil
  • A compass
  • Optional – a smartphone with a compass app.


A compass, play dough, sharp pencil and horseshoe magnet on a green table
1 Pushing a pencil into modelling clay

Push the end of a sharpened pencil into a lump of modelling clay or dough and stand it upright on a desk.

2 Balancing a magnet on a sharpened pencil
3 Balancing magnet aligned with a compass pointing north

Bring a compass up to the base of the pencil. You should see that the horseshoe magnet has lined up with the same direction that the compass is facing. You’ve found Earth’s magnetic north pole!

You can double-check that compass is not being attracted to the horseshoe magnet by moving it away from the balancing compass you’ve made. If it the compass needle still points in the same northerly direction, you’re ok.

4 iphone showing compass app next to a balancing compass

OPTIONAL – Use a compass app on a smartphone to instead of a traditional compass.

5 Magnets

What is going on?

The Earth’s outer core is constantly moving, whereby iron-rich molten rock swirls in large eddies. This swirling motion of iron-rich molten rock acts as a geodynamo, creating electric currents that produce the Earth’s magnetic field. This dynamic magnetic field extends out into space and is constantly moving due to motion of the outer core (as well as other interactions with sources of magnetism throughout the Earth’s interior and in the Earth’s atmosphere). As such, the magnetic north of the Earth is always moving and is not aligned with north on a map.

Your horseshoe magnet lined up with Earth’ magnetic north pole!


Variables to test

  • Does the size of the horseshoe magnet matter?
  • What if you vary how you suspend the magnet?

More on variable testing here

Learn more!


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