Bring Science Home

Steering Science: Make a Homemade Compass

A physics project from Science Buddies

Observations and results
Did the needle in your homemade compass align itself along the Earth's north and south poles?
When you rubbed the magnet against the sewing needle, you magnetized the needle, effectively making it a weak, temporary magnet. Because magnets interact with one another (pushing against one another or pulling one another together), the magnetized needle can interact with Earth's magnetic field. Although Earth's magnetic field is relatively weak, it should have clearly affected the needle because the needle was allowed to freely float in the cork disk on the water. Specifically, once it stopped moving, the needle should have aligned itself along Earth's magnetic field, lining up along the north/south axis. This means that one end of the needle should have pointed north, while the other pointed south. The same end should have always pointed the same direction. (You can do some more research to figure out how to make a compass that always has the needle's tip point a specific direction—either north or south.)
More to explore
Fun Magnet Facts for Kids, from Science Kids
The Amazing Floating Train: How Much Weight Can a Maglev Train Hold?, from Science Buddies
Science Activities for All Ages!, from Science Buddies
Make Your Own Compass (pdf), from Discover Your World with NOAA

This activity brought to you in partnership with Science Buddies

Science Buddies

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