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Magnetic Field Patterns in oil

Make patterns with iron filings in oil. Back with colour to make an art piece to photograph. This activity is messy.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Physics: Motion and Forces, Newton’s Laws, Gravity (K, 2, 6)
  • glass plates e.g. from picture frames
  • vegetable oil, or other clear oil
  • iron filings
  • pipette
  • magnets, weaker ceramic ones work best
  • coloured paper
  • camera to record artwork

This activity is messy, and best done in a tray. Probably not suitable for a whole class, but for breakout groups with an attending adult.

Add a puddle of oil to one glass plate, spread out a little, then sprinkle iron filings on it.
Slowly lower the second glass plate, to avoid air bubbles. Add more oil from the edges with a pipette if necessary.
Move the top glass plate in a circular motion over the lower glass plate, to spread out the iron filings.
Use a magnet over the top glass plate to draw patterns in the iron filings.
Once a design is completed, slide a coloured piece of paper below the lower glass plate, being careful not to get oil on it, then photograph.


A simpler way to capture iron filings art - make iron filings pattern on a paper plate, spray with vinegar (will make rust). Allow to dry then brush of filings to leave the field pattern in rust.

Grades taught: 
Gr 4
Gr 5
Teaching site: 
ingridscience afterschool