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Summer Camp Session Two: Homopolar Motors

05
Aug/11

For the second session of our work with the Exploratorium Summer Camp we tried a new activity, homopolar motors. Sebastian tried this activity at Maker Faire with a range of people from kids to adults, and we wanted to find out how it would work with a group of 7-10 year olds.  There were definitely some challenges that made this activity more difficult to do than squishy circuits.  For one, bending wire precisely is hard.  Another challenge is that these motors are finicky; they'll work one minute, then not the next.  As you build, you have to balance them just right so that they can spin without flying off. This finickiness pushed the campers to persevere and try harder as they built.  It reminded me a lot of marble machines. There's an element of frustration that things don't always turn out as you expect them to, but there is also an intense feeling of satisfaction when things work out just right.

On both days the campers made some fascinating and beautiful wire sculptures. Many also included stories or functions that accompanied them, such as "it's a dog chasing it's tail" or "this one is designed to fling a pom pom off the top." They also had the option of bringing their motor up to spin on a stage if they wanted.

Summer Camp - Homopolar Motors

Summer Camp - Homopolar Motors

Summer Camp - Homopolar Motors

Summer Camp - Homopolar Motors

Summer Camp - Homopolar Motors

Summer Camp - Homopolar Motors

Outside of the activity, another element we wanted to experiment with was the environment of the Tinkering Studio as a workshop space. This week we tried putting up a simple sign to explain to visitors what was going on in the space. The chalkboard sign was easy to make quickly, but retrospectively, could have conveyed more information.

Summer Camp - Homopolar Motors

We also tried using new glue gun stands that we built (inspired by the ones we saw at the Watsonville Community Science Workshop). They worked pretty well, but in the next iteration, we should probably make them heavier so they're less tippy,

Summer Camp - Homopolar Motors

In case you're curious about what materials you'd need to do this at home, here are some sources and tips:

-Neodymium magnets: http://www.amazon.com/Neodymium-Magnets-inch-Cylinder-N48/dp/B001KUSPKQ

-Copper wire: http://www.amazon.com/Copper-Annealed-0-0508-Diameter-Length/dp/B000IJYR...
(Tip: the heavier gauge wire doesn't heat up as quickly so it's safer to use. Thinner wire is great for making additions to your piece.)

-Cup washer: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Countersunk-Finish-Washer-count/dp/B000ODO0YA (Tip: hot gluing the washer to the top of the battery will make it more stable but isn't necessary.)

-Base: we used 2x4 pieces with wood screws drilled in to hold the magnets in place as you test, but this is optional.

Enjoy!

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