I volunteer a bit of my time each week at Emily’s school. There are a number of folks who work with individual kids on numerous topics. I met a student who is interested in green energy so we are studying green energy topics. In particular, we are building green energy sources or projects that use said sources. In other words, we are building a generator like what might be used in a windmill. We also plan to build a solar battery charger to keep my student’s portable video game system charged. Part of my goal, of course, is to teach my friend about electricity and windmills and solar power, but a part of my interest is expanding my understanding of the topics as well.
I remember back when I was in 4th or 5th grade. We were messing with electricity (and not in the back of the classroom with paperclips and the wall socket) and learning how it works. I remember one assignment for extra credit was to build an electric motor. My Grandpa and I spent hours trying to figure out how to make one work. We tried all sorts of combinations and variations but could never make it spin. So, as a part of learning about electricity and generators, I decided we needed first to build a motor. A motor, of course, is sort of like the opposite of a generator. Put power into a coil and it will spin. Manually turn the coil and it will generate electricity. Anyhow, it seems that building a motor is relevant to learning about generators. This had nothing to do with my long-standing feelings of inadequacy regarding motor building…no indeed, this was all about educating my student. It’s about the kids, right? Ok, so I think it is pretty neat too.
As I looked at electric motor plans, I quickly discovered what Grandpa and I did wrong…it’s all about ease of turning the motor. Our motor turned pretty smoothly by hand, but there was a great deal more friction than what our set-up could handle. I found all sorts of ideas on how to make a motor, but I wanted to make something that looked as close as possible to the one that Grandpa and I tried to make…I mean, I wanted one that my student and I could learn from…
So…here’s what we did. I bought magnet wire from Radio Shack (now, they are calling themselves “the Shack”…yeah, that’s more hip). Magnet wire is just copper wire with super thin insulation. We used a middle weight wire…the green stuff. The package that The Shack sells has three colors/weights. We left a six inch tail and then wrapped 30 turns of the wire around a AA battery that we were planning to use to power the system. We left a 6 inch tail on the other end as well. In order to make sure the coil stayed together, we wrapped each tail around the bit of coil on each side. Basically, I just took the tail on each side and ran it through the middle and back out 2 times to hold the coil on each side.
We bent a few paperclips (you could use any conductor) to hold the coil and put a few magnets between the paperclips. Since our motor has magnets vertically placed (i.e. not on the side), we had to hold the coil straight up and down with the tails sticking out to each side. I stripped the insulation off of one tail the entire way around the wire. On the other tail, I stripped only the top half of the wire. We hooked a few beads to each tail to dampen vibration (which we learned was necessary). Regarding magents…I just bought run of the mill magnets at a big-box home improvement store. Bigger, badder magnets would change the dynamics of the motor for sure!this version if you have trouble with the one above)
Once we hooked the battery pack to the paperclips, we dropped the coil onto the paperclips and gave it an initial spin. It quickly “catches” and starts spinning like crazy! You can imagine, I danced like Brittney Spears…only without the nastiness. I made a motor! I made a motor! I mean…We made a motor! We made a motor! No longer am I burdened by 5th grade motor-failure-angst! We both had a good time just watching it spin and it was educational indeed as it was a perfect segue into generators (I knew it would be!). Next week, we’ll start tinkering with our first generator. I am so excited!