Sunday, December 12, 2010

Flying Santa Floating Paper Clip Experiment - Science Sunday

We always try to eat together as a family at our dining room table. Some days the dinner conversations are more interesting than others and one time we ended up talking about the topic of outer space. We explained to the kids that things float around in space due to the low-gravity environment and that if we were eating in space the food would float around.

Our table conversation must have made an impression. The next week my daughter's teacher presented the class with a science experiment - a floating paper clip. She asked the class to form a hypothesis about why the paper clip floats. My daughter answered "no gravity." Well, her hypothesis was incorrect, but I was surprised and pleased that she took something away from our conversation. She was so excited about her school science experiment that she asked if we could repeat it at home. It's a simple experiment to perform and kept the kids occupied for some time.

How does Santa fly through the sky? We really don't know. But, we had fun making a miniature Santa and his reindeer fly. We added a little holiday twist to the floating paper clip experiment by attaching an image of Santa and his reindeer to the paper clip with some tape.

Flying Santa Floating Paper Clip Experiment

Scientific principles and topics:
Magnetic forces
metals vs. other materials


Light string
Paper Santa image (optional)


Tie the paper clip to a piece of string and tape the other end of the string to a table.

Hold the paper clip up. Position the magnet above it so the magnet and paperclip are close, but not touching. Let go of the paper clip. The paper clip should float.

The magnetic force travels through the air, attracting and suspending the metal paper clip so that it floats in mid-air.

This is a nice beginner experiment for helping children understand magnetic fields. Our kids enjoyed making the paper clip float as if by magic and loved making Santa fly. My daughter decided she wanted to make a snowflake dance and drew a snowflake to attach to a paperclip. My son found out that his Thomas the Train engine has magnets on the ends and discovered those magnets were strong enough that he could make the engine hang from the end of the paperclip attached by tape to the counter. We also talked about how magnetic fields can go through materials like paper (demonstrate by hanging a piece of paper on the refrigerator with a magnet). We used ordinary circle shaped magnets for our experiment, but since the kids liked this so much, we're considering buying some stronger, scientific magnets with clearly labeled poles, so that we can conduct more experiments using magnets.

Related links:
The Magic School Bus - Suspend Metal in Mid-Air!

If you enjoyed this post you can find more Science Sunday experiments involving kids at or even join in the weekly meme. Science is Fun!


Unknown said...

This is a really neat experiment! I love how you made it your own by adding Santa and the reindeer. Thank you for sharing.

Christy Killoran said...

I love that you added the Santa and reindeer image! My kids would love this.

lori c. said...

this is great. i was wanting some sort of unusual science to go with our santa/reindeer theme this week and this will be perfect.

mom4 said...

i am going to do this next week when talking about Reindeer or readig night before christmas i think my K kids and preschool will be in oh !thanks

Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

This is a really neat experiment! So maybe Santa's Sleigh is made of iron and pulled by a magnet up in the sky :)

Ticia said...

At first I was thinking you made it float on water using surface tension, but this is pretty cool too.

Anonymous said...

This is cool! We'll have to give this experiment a try next week!