The Cup Motor: A Cool Science Experiment

By Donnie | Articles

The same teacher I mentioned in my “Science Wizard” post showed me another cool experiment that some of his fifth graders were working on. He told me that they were making simple motors in class, and I always thought stuff like that was cool, so I asked him about it. He showed me the basic setup and it was some real McGuyver-type stuff* Using tape, two magnets, two paper clips, sandpaper. a copper wire coil, a battery and two wires, you can make your very own electromagnetic motor!

You make a copper wire coil, leaving a straightened section on each end of the coil (this straightened piece is how the coil will rotate. Sand one of the straightened pieces completely, and sand only one the top half of the other straightened end. That means the the piece of the straightened wire facing the ceiling should be sanded while the piece facing the floor should not be sanded. This is extremely important in getting the motor to spin.

Poke two holes through a paper cup. The holes should line up to face one another. If you were to put an object through one hole far enough, the object should reach the other hole. If you make an imaginary, vertical line through the bottom of the cup, the object would rest perpendicular to that line.

Tape simple, circular magnets inside the cup (the magnets should also face each other).

Create two paper clip ports (see the picture) that your power source can easily attach to.

This is what we're going for.

Connect the positive port of your battery to one of these paper clip ports and the the negative to the other. When you finish the circuit should look like this:

The completed cup motor circuit

Slide the two straightened edges of the copper wire coil into the holes of you cup. when you slide in the copper wire the copper wire coil should balance in the center of the cup.
Give the coil a spin with your index finger. If the wire coil keeps spinning, congrats…you did it.

If not try changing the orientation of the wire coil and see if that helps. Also make sure that the straight ends of the copper wire is making contact with the base of the paper clips. If not, that means the circuit isn’t complete, and electricity isn’t running through the copper wire coil.


*For those who aren’t familiar with McGuyver, he was the hero of this 80’s TV show who could create all kinds of cool devices from the simplest things. He could take his jacket and probably make it into an explosive device. Maybe not that extreme, but you get the idea.

I thought it was pretty cool that you could use such basic items to c that are so s m’. I’m looking forward to seeing the next cool experiment!

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