Left field
15 February 2019

Makeshift Magnets

Makeshift Magnets Photo illustration by Caroline McNiel

Turn your trash into treasure by creating your own high-field magnet models.

Story by KRISTIN ROBERTS and CAROLINE MCNIEL

Research magnets can require millions of dollars and many years to design and build. But with a few repurposed resources, you can craft your very own world-record magnets and understand how scientists use them to conduct experiments that lead to groundbreaking discoveries.

First, pdfdownload and print the paper parts you'll need! You will also need scissors, tape or glue, recycled toilet tissue or paper towel roll and a straw. Of course, you’ll also need (as any scientist does) curiosity and imagination!

Be an Engineer

First, you'll be an engineer as you build two world-unique magnets housed at the National MagLab and some probes to go with them.

  1. Start snipping! Cut along all the blue and green dashed lines to create all the pieces and parts.
  2. Build your magnets. High-field magnets are cylindrical with a small opening down the center (called the bore) where the experiment takes place. Create your cylinders by first gluing the rectangular cutouts to your recycled toilet tissue or paper towel rolls. Then glue the tops and bottoms into place. Voilà: Magnets! Specifically, you're building the 900 MHz, 21.1-tesla NMR–MRI magnet and the 45-tesla hybrid magnet.
  3. Build your probes. These are holders you'll need to put your sample (the thing you're studying) inside the magnet. It also measures what's happening to the sample inside the magnetic field. Glue or tape the cut-out probes to upcycled straws.

Be a Scientist

Now, step into the shoes of a scientist and try your hand at an experiment of your own!

  1. Select a sample. High-field magnets can illuminate everything from new materials to oil samples to the human body itself!
  2. Pick the right magnet for the job. Want to understand migraines in rodent brains? Use the strongest MRI scanner in the world — the 900 MHz. Trying to see how electrons behave in special materials? Use the world's strongest magnet — the 45-tesla hybrid magnet.
  3. Match your sample with the right probe. We color-coordinated them for you to make it easy!
  4. Run your experiment. Insert your prepared probe into the magnet. Try to get the sample right in the center of the magnet where the field is the strongest. Then (using that imagination) envision your amazing discoveries! (For inspiration, explore some of the MagLab’s science highlights.
  5. Repeat with different samples and probes.
  6. Shout: "Eureka! I love science!"
Last modified on 28 March 2019