There are two ways to create a magnetic field. First, you can wrap wire around a nail and attach the ends of the wire to a battery to make an electromagnet. When you connect the battery to the wires, current begins to flow, creating a magnetic field. However, the magnets that stick to your fridge are neither moving nor plugged into the electrical outlet – which leads to the second way to make a magnetic field: by rubbing a nail with a magnet to line up the electron spin. You can essential “choreograph” the way an electron spins around the atom to increase the magnetic field of the material. This project is for advanced students.
There are several different types of magnets. Permanent magnets are materials that stay magnetized, no matter what you do to it… even if you whack it on the floor (which you can do with a magnetized nail to demagnetize it). You can temporarily magnetize certain materials, such as iron, nickel, and cobalt. And an electromagnet is basically a magnet that you can switch on and off and reverse the north and south poles.
The strength of a magnetic field is measured in “Gauss”. The Earth’s magnetic field measures 0.5 Gauss. Typical refrigerator magnets are 50 Gauss. Neodymium magnets (like the ones we’re going to use in this project) measure at 2,000 Gauss. The largest magnetic fields have been found around distant magnetars (neutron stars with extremely powerful magnetic fields), measuring at 10,000,000,000,000,000 Gauss. (A neutron star is what’s left over from certain types of supernovae, and typically the size of Manhattan.)
Linear accelerators (also known as a linac) use different methods to move particles to very high speeds. One way is through induction, which is basically a pulsed electromagnet. We’re going to use a slow input speed and super-strong magnets and multiply the effect to generate a high-speed ball bearing to shoot across the floor.