Astonishing Science. Spectacular museum.
In this activity you can make a very simple electric motor, which uses magnets and a battery to make a wire spin.
Year groups: 7-9 (ages 11-14)
Pocket Motor Activity sheet
Download student activity sheet [pdf]
Pocket Motor activity template
Download cut-out template sheet [pdf]
We think that this is the simplest electric motor possible. It does wear the battery out quite quickly, so use fresh batteries every time for best results. Also, be aware that the wire can get hot quite quickly, so handle with care.
If you use insulated or enamelled wire, make sure you strip the outer coating where the wire touches the battery and magnet with wire strippers or coarse sandpaper.
When using the wire template, it helps to fold the wire in half to make the centre point first. This means that an equal amount is left for each side, which will help the wire spin in a more balanced way.
Rare-earth magnets are very strong. You can buy them from educational suppliers, e.g. www.mutr.co.uk. Be careful when bringing two rare-earth magnets together in case your skin is trapped between them.
For a more inquiry-based activity, challenge the students to design a motor that makes the wire spin using just the materials listed. Do not give them the template and encourage open exploration before steering them in any particular direction. Click here for a guide to planning open-ended investigations in your classroom.
Ford UK designed the Comuta as a non-polluting car back in the 1960s. It was powered by four 12-volt lead batteries, and could reach a maximum speed of 37 mph (60 km/h). Modern electric cars, such as the Tesla Roadster, are able to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (100 km/h) in about 4 seconds, and can reach a top speed of over 130 mph (210 km/h).
The Ford Comuta electric car
Toys like this electric Dalek convert electrical energy stored in batteries into movement, sound, light and sometimes (as a by-product) heat.
Toy Dalek from the BBC TV series Doctor Who, c. 1966