Make A Simple Compass science experiment : Fizzics Education


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Make A Simple Compass

Make A Simple Compass

Follow FizzicsEd 150 Science Experiments:

You will need:

  • One iron needle
  • A small piece of Styrofoam
  • One bar magnet
  • One flat pie plate


Materials needed to make a simple compass showing a green bowl of water, a magnet, a foam with a needle on top and a bottle of water
1 Pouring water in a green bowl

Fill the pie plate with water to about 3cm in depth.

2 Floating foam in some water

Float the Styrofoam in the middle of the plate.

3 Rubbing a needle on a magnet

Carefully stroke the needle lengthways along the bar magnet, around 30 times.

4 A needle on a piece of floating foam

Gently place the needle on the Styrofoam and watch what happens.

5 A man placing his hand on a plasma globe. Energy is streaming out of the tesla coil towards his fingers

Get the Electricity & Magnetism Unit of Work here!

  • How does electricity actually flow?
  • What makes magnets become magnetic?
  • Why is there electromagnetism and what does this tell us about electricity & magnetism?
  • From series & parallel circuits to conductors & insulators, there’s a lot to explore & learn!

Includes cross-curricular teaching ideas, student quizzes, a sample marking rubric, scope & sequences & more.

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6 madlab soldering circuits
7 Teacher showing how to do an experiment outside to a group of kids.

Online courses for teachers & parents

– Help students learn how science really works

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Why Does This Happen?

The Earth is like one gigantic magnet. The magnetic field is generated by the movement of the molten iron in the Earth’s outer core. Compasses are just smaller magnets that detect the North Pole of the Earth’s magnetic field.

Rubbing the iron needle on the magnet aligns the magnetic domains within the needle, turning it itself magnetic. Floating it allows the magnetic needle to align with Earth’s magnetic field. This type of compass has been around for hundreds of years, ever since the properties of magnetite or ‘lodestone’ have been used for navigation. Lodestone literally means ‘the stone that leads’.

Variables to test

More on variables here

  • How many strokes along the magnet do you need to do before it works?
  • Change the strength of the magnet (safety – use adult help with strong magnets!).
  • Would this work with pieces of copper, aluminium, zinc etc?

A man with a glove above a liquid nitrogen vapour cloud

Learn More!


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