Reports that other planets may support life always refer to the presence of liquid water.  What is almost never mentioned is whether these planets have a strong magnetic field protecting them. This is one of the key reasons why Earth has an atmosphere and Mars doesn’t. This feature is important and simple bar magnets can demonstrate the nature of the Earth’s magnetic field.

North South Bar Magnets

Bar magnets, for the purpose of this discussion, are longer than they are wide or thick and have North & South poles on the ends. They are made from a number of materials but cost, strength and durability are all variables to be considered.

Alnico (aluminum nickel cobalt) bar magnets are quite a bit stronger & do not demagnetize as easily. They are more expensive than chrome steel though but are still readily available. They are excellent for attraction and repulsion work.

Neodymium bar magnets are the most expensive but even the poorest quality ones are much too strong for working with iron filings when used to represent Earth’s magnetic field. Further, most are magnetized through their thickness and not on the ends so are not suitable for this application.

Perhaps even more importantly, they can come together with enough force to shatter them or any finger caught in the middle and are too dangerous for attraction experiments.

Ferrite Bar Magnets for Classroom Use

A popular choice that combines the right strength and price are ceramic ferrite bar magnets.  They just strong to pick up filings or paper clips but not so dangerous that they snap together on little fingers. Their only disadvantage is they will break or chip if dropped onto a hard surface.

We offer 3 sizes of ferrite bar magnets that are suitable for science experiments. Because proper manufacturing of this type of magnet is important we list paperclip pickup test results as a guarantee of quality. Our magnets are also certified lead free.

Our magnet, filings, compass and viewer combination pack is our most complete and economical package for magnet experiments for kids.

Ferrite Bar Magnets

Inexpensive ferrite bar magnets are suitable for attraction-repulsion and paperclip pickup. Do not to drop on to a hard surface such as concrete as they are quite brittle and will chip or crack. They do not require special storage or handling otherwise.

How Many Paperclips Can a Magnet Hold?

Forty paper clips were placed in a 500ml beaker. A single 75x18x6.5mm ferrite bar magnet was dipped into the beaker to pick up as many paper clips as possible. An average of 22 were pickup up over 5 trials. Plastic coated paperclips do not pick up as well uncoated.

You can do this test yourself with our science experiments with magnets bundle that comes with all 3 sizes.

TypeTrial 1Trial 2Trial 3Trial 4Trial 5Average
Uncoated Steel191821282222
Plastic Coated Steel 1311139911

Repulsion Test Results

Two 75x18x6.5mm bar magnets with similar poles where pressed together. They were released & the distances they spread apart was measured. Your results will vary depending on the smoothness of the underlying surface. You can try coating with oil or grease to make friction a factor in your experiment.

Trial 1Trial 2Trial 3Trial 4Trial 5Average

Magnet Experiments at Home

Just about everyone has a collection of Lego™ parts. We standard blocks used to build a test track to constrain the bar magnets during repulsion.  You can of course do magnetic attraction experiments using this this method as well.

(Note that both videos feature a logo that uses our old domain name, These magnets are available at our new home

Another Way to Do Repulsion

Adding 20x10x5 neodymium rare earth block magnets to the ends of the 120mm long bar magnets greatly increased the repulsive force. We were able to achieve 150-200mm (6-8″) of repulsion distance compared to less than 50mm (2″) without the boost.