Flying Paper Clip

Have you ever been close to something that smells bad? Have you noticed that the farther you get from that something, the less it smells, and the closer you get, the more it smells? Well forces sort of work in the same way.

Forces behave according to a fancy law called the inverse-square law. To be technical, an inverse-square law is any physical law stating that some physical quantity or strength is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source of that physical quantity.

The inverse-square law applies to quite a few phenomena in physics. When it comes to forces, it basically means that the closer an object comes to the source of a force, the stronger that force will be on that object. The farther that same object gets from the force’s source, the weaker the effect of the force.

Mathematically we can say that doubling the distance between the object and the source of the force makes the force 1/4th as strong. Tripling the distance makes the force 1/9th as strong. Let’s play with this idea a bit.

Here’s what you need:

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46 Responses to “Flying Paper Clip”
  1. Aurora says:

    You can find stronger magnets sometimes in unusual places, like latches and doors that pull themselves shut, in motors of toys, and other places. The ones in the video were about $2 from the store.

  2. apbaine says:

    My magnets were not strong enough.

    The paper clip did not as do in video.

  3. saturn says:

    I made a chain of six paper clips and had 2 of the same magnets as you did needed a 2nd person and the chain floated in the air ( it tolk many tries because the magnets wanted to brake the chain ) but it was fun now in my & your experiment how is it related to gravity?


  4. Aurora says:

    Which one are you looking for?

  5. Gail Fripp says:

    I’m having trouble finding the experiments i want to do ;u;
    can you help me?

  6. Laura King says:

    I CANT WAIT TO DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Aurora says:

    Sure! Take a flashlight to bed tonight and play with it. Do you notice how when you pull the flashlight away from the wall, the spot of light on the wall gets dimmer? If you start at the wall, that’s where it’s the brightest. When you back up across the room, the brightness on the wall decreases. If the light source gets twice as far away, the brightness gets four times dimmer. 4 is the square of 2.

  8. Margarita Montes says:

    Can you explain the inverse square law to a 6 year old please

  9. Aurora says:

    What a fun question! I actually gave this to one of my favorite astronomers, and here’s the reqponse:

    I don’t know much about Jupiter’s and Saturn’s magnetic fields. I don’t know if their magnetic fields coincide with their poles of rotation. I know Earth’s doesn’t. Assuming that Jupiter has the stronger magnetic field. I think it does because it rotates so quickly. Also assuming that Jupiter’s magnetic field coincides with its rotational poles. Also assuming that you align the cow magnet’s north pole with with Jupiter’s north pole and vise versa with the south poles, all things being equal, the magnet will crash into Jupiter’s equator. Or do I have it backward? Do like poles attract or repel? I do have it backward. Spin your magnet 180 degrees. Also it may be a trick question because I don’t know if Jupiter and Saturn have the same magnetic polarity at their north poles of rotation. Realize that the Earth has swapped its magnetic polarity over time. If Jupiter and Saturn have opposite polarities at their north poles of rotation, then it really depends on the alignment of your magnet when you release it. It could be repelled by Jupiter and attracted by Saturn or vise versa. There are other factors involved, such as the equators of rotation of Jupiter and Saturn aren’t exactly in the same plane. Also timing is important. Do you release the magnet when Jupiter and Saturn are closest or when they are on opposite sides of the sun. No easy answer to this one. Depends on initial conditions and a whole lot of assumptions.

    In reality, a cow magnet released between Jupiter and Saturn will probably stay in that orbit until the sun dies. Hope this gives you some food for thought!

  10. Dan Archer says:

    If I was to put a cow magnet into space between Jupiter and Saturn what planet would it go to and which pole would it go to?

  11. Aurora says:

    Yes – the more aligned the domains are inside the material, the stronger the magnet is going to be. Neodymium magnets are among the strongest you can purchase inexpensively.

  12. Dan Archer says:

    If I was to put a cow magnet into space between Jupiter and Saturn what planet would it go to and which pole would it go to?

  13. Dan Archer says:

    We have a cow magnet it is really strong is there a magnet that is stronger?

  14. Dan Archer says:


  15. Dan Archer says:


  16. jkayhan says:

    Hello. My name is Kyle. I observed the more paper clips tied on to the string the weaker the force.

  17. Becky Peterman says:

    Hi. I think this project is cool but i can’t do distance right. Awesome anyways!


  18. Aurora says:

    Awesome! So glad you enjoyed the project! 🙂

  19. Debbie Dobson says:

    that was very cool progect i am glad that my mom got this for me and my sister Debbie Dobsons children

  20. Aurora says:

    Good question! The iron in the paper clip is attracted to either end of the magnet… did you notice that? If you were using another magnet instead of a paperclip, then you’d notice a attraction-repulsion effect like you’re mentioning.

  21. Loreena Baker says:

    My name is Oleksiy

    What if we shoot a paper clip in space would the paper clip go to north pole or the south pole????

  22. Aurora says:

    I will have my team connect with you right away to check the status of your account!

  23. Dawn Kyle says:

    We no longer have access to this unit?

  24. Aurora says:

    Awesome question! There’s a whole section about just that right here.

  25. mell p says:

    hey aurora how does a magnet work

  26. Aurora says:

    Without seeing your magnet, it’s hard to say, but how do you know it’s strongest int he middle? The poles are the area that if you put the magnet in a pile of paperclips, it’s the ends that the most amount of paperclips stick to.

  27. Dom L. says:

    Hi Aurora,

    Our rare earth magnet was strongest in the middle, between the poles. Is this because of the larger surface area? We’re not sure.


  28. Judith Rockwell says:

    This experiment was really fun.

  29. Laura Hoggard says:

    not hehe 🙁 🙁 is how i feel about it 🙁 🙁 (

  30. Aurora says:

    Cool – let me know how it goes! You’ll need a couple more magnets to hold it in the right position. 🙂

  31. DaLynn McCoy says:

    Hey, I was wondering, what if we “expand” on this experiment (for students 12+ or something like that)?

    We could make the paper clip ACTUALLY FLY around the room!

    All we would need is some form of non-magnetic counterweight (like 2 pennies). We could tie the clip to one end and the pennies to the other, and hold the magnet above the paper clip, giving it freedom to maneuver in mid-air.

    Just a thought. 😉

    Christian McCoy, age 14

  32. Jennifer Silcott says:

    My daughters loved this experiment.

  33. kemnitzer says:

    It is so cool!!!!! I love it!!!

  34. Vanessa Antonsen says:

    I love this experiment! I found it easier if you use a giant magnet it will “fly” better! 🙂

  35. Aurora says:

    Nope – make it any height you like! So glad you had fun!!

  36. bivinyb says:

    This experiment was like soooooooooo cool! It was so cool that the paperclip was flying and it was……….just.. soo cool! I have a question though . Does the string have to be 4- inches? It’s kind of a weird question I was just asking hehe. 🙂

    12 years old

  37. Aurora says:

    The placement of the magnet depends on the strength if its magnetic field. The magnet in the video might be stronger than yours – are there other magnets you can try to test this out for yourself?

  38. karen freeman says:

    how do you do it so easy and have the magnet so far away?

  39. karen freeman says:

    just tried it it took me ten tries to get it three inches and half a centmieter but it is so cool i made a wall display did you know that it works with tape on it two but so cool!!!!!!! thanks miss aurora

  40. karen freeman says:

    hi i havent tried it yet but that is becuase im not at home im ate my moms office im on my cumpter i think that you are so nice i just started today

  41. karen freeman says:

    hi i havent tried it yet but that is becuase im not at home im ate my moms office im on my cumpter i think that you are so nice i just started today im making my bed room a science lag i already have a micsricope

  42. Anna Muterspaugh says:

    This is so cool ! I wish everything was magnetic, so I could do this experiment with everything I own. Your experiments are sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
    cool! I was never really wowed by science before my family and I subscribed to supercharged science. Sometimes I get on this website 4 fun !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  43. Cheri Blomquist says:

    Hi. 🙂
    This experiment was awesome! I usually dread science, but then I started this program and now I can’t wait for science! BTW- I noticed that when the paper clip is attracted to the magnet, even if you put your hand between the magnet and the paper clip, it doesn’t block the pull of the magnet. I just thought it was kinda cool! 🙂
    Annika Blomquist, 12 years old 🙂

  44. Veronica Cable says:

    Hi. :).At first our paper clip did not fly. Then my little brother succeeded. I think his rope is shorter than mine.

    Great expirement!!!!!! 🙂

    Seva Cable, 9 yrs. old.

  45. Aurora says:

    Andrew McClintick wrote: “How is it related to gravfity?”

    You can easily see how the magnetic force is much greater than the gravitational force, as the paper clip flies up. This experiment is in the “Force” section to help demonstrate the relative strengths of the difference forces and also the different fields. Great question!

  46. Andrew McClintick says:

    How is it related to gravfity?


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