Make Your Own Compass

Try using a magnet and a sewing needle to find the North and South pole!

What You Need

  • A sewing needle
  • Wax Paper
  • Scissors
  • A Glass Bowl
  • Water
  • A magnet (one with a marked north and south pole if possible, but that's not necessary)
  • A Sharpie Marker

What to Do

1. Fill a glass bowl  ½ full with water

2. Cut the wax paper into a circle with a diameter no larger than the length of the needle.

3. Using the sharpie marker , color the end of the of the needle with the hole

4. Rub the south pole of the magnet in one direction several times on the end colored with the sharpie. If you do not have a magnet with labeled sides it is okay, just rub one end of the needle in one direction.

5. Thread the needle through the wax paper.

6. Place the wax paper on the top of the water in the bowl with the needle on top.

7. The needle will then move to align with the earth’s magnetic field. If it does not move, try rubbing it with the magnet again multiple times.

Homemade Compass

What's Going On?

The Earth's spinning iron core gives Earth its magnetic field. Just like with a magnet, Earth has a magnetic north pole and magnetic south pole. However, the interesting thing is that the Earth’s geographic North Pole is actually a magnetic south pole and the geographic South Pole is a magnetic north pole.

In this activity, the natural dipoles in the needle are realigned to make them more uniform when the magnet is rubbed along one end. This gives the needle a north and a south pole.

If a magnet is used with a distinctive north and a south pole, we will be able to tell which direction the needle is pointing.  If the south pole of the magnet is rubbed on the needle this side will then become the north pole. North and south poles attract; therefore, the north pole of the needle will be attracted to the south pole (geographic North Pole).

If a magnet without a labeled north and south pole is used, the needle will still align with the Earth’s magnetic field in a north-south direction.

Apply It!

Try carefully moving the bowl around the room; the needle will continue to point in one direction even if you spin the bowl in circles.

-Jamie Garrett