This physics inquiry activity asks students to engineer the fastest “train.” Students are given a length of copper wire, AA batteries, and neodymium magnets and are asked to engineer a magnetic train that travels through a copper coil. The activity can be used to visually introduce electric and magnetic fields or as a summary engineering design challenge. Students can work in pairs or small groups, and all materials are reusable.
How can we move people quickly and minimize burning fossil fuel?
HS-PS2-5. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that an electric current can produce a magnetic field and that a changing magnetic field can produce an electric current.
Magnets pose a choking hazard if swallowed.
Precut the 12 feet of copper wire prior to the activity. Check batteries for signs of corrosion and properly dispose of any cored batteries. All materials can be reused.
Construct a data table that identifies the variables you are changing (independent), the variables you are holding constant (controlled), and the variables you are measuring (dependent).
The only variable that must remain constant is the length of copper wire. Number of coils (length of track), number of batteries (1 or 2), number (1-4), and placement of magnets can all vary. Time and length of track must be measured to calculate speed.
Describe your final design, explain how it works, and use evidence to make a claim that it was the best design.
Student answers will vary with design; electromagnetic fields must be included in the explanation. Highest speed obtained should be correlated to best design.
Identify the variables that were the most impactful on the final design, and supply evidence for the variable impact on the design.
Student answers will vary with design.
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