MagLab Summer Exploration Series

summer exploration series 2020 carlos and huan picture


This past summer the National MagLab presented an online science enrichment program for middle and high school students around the country. Read on to find out more about this special program.

  • LIVE Zoom sessions were held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 12:00 PM EST.
  • Pre-recorded content was shared on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Weekly challenges were completed by participating students.

The MagLab's 2020 Summer Exploration Series allowed for a safe and virtual opportunity for students to learn what about goes on behind the scenes at the MagLab with unprecedented access to scientists, engineers, educators, and technicians.

Prize Structure

  • 1-3 challenges: MagLab sticker
  • 5-6 Challenges: MagLab helicopter toy & sticker
  • 7-9 Challenges: MagLab magnet, helicopter toy, & sticker
  • 10 Challenges: MagLab T-shirt, magnet, helicopter toy, & sticker

This series devoted a week to each of the discipline-related research topics being conducted at the Magnet Lab, as well as highlighting STEM careers in these fields. The Summer Exploration Series directly put students in touch with MagLab staff during live Ask Me Anything sessions.

Additionally, each week of the MagLab Exploration Series included a weekly challenge where the students engaged in science and engineering practices at home! By participating in these challenges, students earned prizes that were sent out at the end of the summer. The more challenges they completed, the more prizes they earned!

These challenges were completely voluntary, and the students chose which weeks they wanted they wanted to watch. To participate, the students submitted a photo and/or a description of the experiment to Carlos Villa by Thursday of that week at 5:00 PM EST.

For the program, the students were able to participate in the whole ten weeks or sign up for individual weeks that they were interested in. Further, all meetings were recorded and posted online for the students who missed certain days to go back and watch again.

For a schedule of the Summer 2020 topics and downloadable content, please see below

TopicDescriptionWeekly Content
Week 1 - Intro to the MagLab

An introduction to the MagLab's Summer Exploration Series and what will be covered. Find out more about the MagLab's three locations and what goes on at each one. Discover why strong magnets are important to scientific research, the different types of magnets that are being used, and just how strong these magnets really are.

Weekly Challenge: Experiment with the magnets in your home to find out which is the strongest magnet.

Week 2 - Intro to Physics

This week we will get into the basics of physics and talk about electrons, protons and neutrons and how they relate to magnetism. We'll explore how magnets attract and repel and find out why this force is so important to scientific research.

Weekly Challenge: Use items around your home to try to weaken the magnetic fields around your magnets. Try to see if you can demagnetize one of your magnets.

Week 3 - Intro to Electromagnetism

Electricity and magnetism are closely related to each other. They are so closely intertwined they are best described as two sides of the same coin. Find out more about their connection and why this force is so important to scientific research.

Weekly Challenge: Hans Christian Oersted discovered the relationship between electricity and magnetism. Your challenge is to use items around your home to show a magnetic field created from electricity affecting a weaker magnet nearby.

Week 4 - Magnet Science & Technology

You can find strong magnets on your refrigerator, but the MagLab's magnets are much stronger, and getting stronger all the time! Let's explore how we make strong magnets, what are the obstacles that we must face, and how the next generation of strong magnets is being designed.

Weekly Challenge: Make a working electromagnet. For added difficulty, manipulate the strength so that it picks up exactly 7 paperclips (or staples, or pins).

Week 5 - Engineering at the MagLab

The magnets at the MagLab need a lot of support for them to function. This week we'll take a deeper look at all the electrical systems that allow the magnets to function and the impressive engineering that we need to create to support the world's strongest magnets.

Weekly Challenge: This week you have the option of being online or offline for your challenge. Your engineering challenge is to design and/or build one of these items that is currently needed at the MagLab:

  1. a door stop,
  2. a hands-free door handle, or
  3. a hand sanitizer holder for walls or doors.

For those choosing online CAD (Computer Aided Design), use any design program, such as and send a picture, or the link to Carlos. For those going offline CAD (Cardboard Assisted Design), use what you have around your house to build one of these devices.

Week 6 - Superconductors & Cryogenics

Many magnets operate better at lower temperatures. Find out just how cold the magnets get and what happens to them and the materials they are made out of at those temperatures; as well as why it's so important to understand the importance of cryogenics.

Weekly Challenge: Cryogenics is the study of materials and their behaviors at extremely low temperatures. One of the reasons liquid helium is such a good cooling agent for superconductors has to do with its viscosity when cooled. This week we will be exploring that property of materials, and how temperature affects it. For this week's challenge, submit your research and data on the viscosity of liquids around your home. If you feel daring, experiment with if/how temperature affects them.

Week 7 - Materials Science

Materials science is one of the MagLab's main areas of study. Find out what this field of science and engineering is, how it impacts the MagLab and our quest for stronger magnets, and what it means for your daily life.

Weekly Challenge: Materials science at the National MagLab is a combination of physics, chemistry, and engineering. There are groups that focus on crystals as part of creating new materials. Your challenge this week is to take the role of one of these scientists and create the best possible crystals. "Best" could mean size color or clarity, I want you to choose one and perfect your technique. There are many different materials that can be used to grow crystals, and many different methods that can be used. Experiment to find the technique that gives the best possible crystal.

Week 8 - Life Science

Because some of the MagLab's magnets are perfect for medical research, life science is another large part of the MagLab's research output. Find out the difference between Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and how they relate to research at the MagLab.

Weekly Challenge: An MRI machine is important to the study of life science. It allows us to look inside of materials using magnetism. Your week 8 challenge is to create a Home-MRI! Build a machine that allows you to see something hidden using magnetism. You can sketch, design in TinkerCAD, or build it with materials from around your house. Show what it looks like and how it uses magnetism to show something that would otherwise be unseen.

Week 9 - Biology & Chemistry

There are a lot of biology and chemistry experiments going on at the MagLab. This week we'll learn more about how these two sciences are being done at the MagLab and how our scientists are making discoveries with strong magnets.

Weekly Challenge: Emulsions are an important aspect to the chemical sciences that happen at the MagLab. For your weekly challenge, you're going to make your own emulsion. Monday's Zoom meeting gives you a few hints at the ratio, so this week you are expected to make your own emulsion (mayonnaise) using oil, 1 egg, vinegar or lemon juice, and Dijon mustard. These materials are all necessary, but I’m leaving it to you to explore the ratios (you can stick with just one egg).

Week 10 - Environmental & Earth/Space Science

Virtually every field of science is done at the MagLab, including Earth sciences like geology and oceanography. Join us for our last week as we learn about the MagLab's geochemistry and petroleomics research. You will learn how the MagLab is working to understand the environment and our impact on it.

Weekly Challenge: Iron is an essential part of the universal cycle. Part of this is because iron is one of the more plentiful elements in the universe. We’re going to take advantage of that, and of the magnetic properties of iron for this weekly challenge: Take the strongest magnet you have, place it in a plastic bag (to make it easier to remove the particles), and drag it through the sand, dirt, soil, where ever! Then remove the particles from the magnet onto a white sheet of paper. Try to get the best, most zoomed in, photo of your particles. Use a microscope or magnifying glass if you can.

Last modified on 16 September 2020