“How does a magnet become a magnet?” asks Ava (11)

A brilliant question Ava. I asked my team for their thoughts.

Yes team you are quite right there are some limitations to magnet making. The main one is that only certain metals can be made into magnets. These metals are called ferromagnetic metals.

Included in this group are the metal iron and the alloys of iron with the metals cobalt, nickel and some other rare earth elements .

It is thought that in these metals (including iron) have some electrons called ‘free electrons’ (not sure what an electron is, then go to Science Master Special – Atoms and Atomic Structure). It is these ‘free electrons’ that are involved in magnetism. In the alloys the  ‘free’ electrons align themselves with the magnetism of the external magnet, making a (for the alloys) a permanent magnet. For iron alone the magnetism is only temporary and you can test this in the experiment below.


Look at the short video I have made below. In the ferromagnetic metal (iron alloy) crystal domains you will see free electrons. In the metal these will be moving freely. As they begin to interact with the external magnetic field, they begin to align themselves, making a permanent magnet.












Tegan (10) asks “How does gravity work?”

Tegan, a very interesting question. This question was asked some time ago and this is what my team said.

In the 17th Century Newton and another scientist called Hooke did some great observations and experiments on falling objects and proposed that gravity was an attraction between any two masses AND the attraction was dependant on the size of the masses involved.

For example you are attracted by the Earth and the Earth is attracted by you BUT your attraction is so much smaller than that of the Earth it does not affect the motion of the Earth. The attraction between you and the Earth is also dependant upon how far away you are from the Earth. The Moon is attracted by the Earth and the Earth is attracted by the Moon. They are both big bodies so gravity does affect the way they move with respect to each other and this dictates how the Moon orbits the Earth.

Some scientists including Einstein have put forward ideas on how gravity operates but even these are being challenged. There a lots of things which are still unanswered. The questions just have to be asked. Thank you for asking it.

revised 15/01/08 …experiment added.

Hello (13) asks “How do tectonic plates work and influence earthquakes?”

Quite right my friend it’s all about convection. Warm water, air, oil, or any liquid/gas stuff  will move upwards (rise) when it is heated. Why. Think about it.

Lets think of an experiment (this is a science blog) where we can test this idea and then move on to the question that Hello asked.

The experiment

You will need a beaker of water, some pencil lead, 3  A batteries, two leads with attached crocodile clips and some food colouring and a dropper

Connect the pencil lead to the batteries using the leads. As the electricity passes through the pencil lead, the pencil lead will heat up. Drop the attached lead into the water. Look carefully at the water, what is happening. If you put a small screen behind the beaker of water and shine a torch on the water you will be able to get a better view of what is happening to the water.


Drop a small amount of food colouring into the water.

Hopefully what you will see are convection currents that have been created by the water close to the lead  warming up and beginning to rise. The next question is WHY.

Warning. Do not use mains electricity. It could be very dangerous and kill you.

Why does the water rise?

When the water particles(molecules) come into close contact with the heated pencil lead they gain kinetic energy (see Science Master Special Energy), they move faster. The water molecules spread out so that in any given space there are less water molecules (less dense). This means that gravity comes into action and the colder water can begin to move into the space where the warm water was. The warmer water ‘floats’ on top of the cold water. The cold water then gets warm and and more cold water moves in and the original warm water floats up higher in the beaker. As the warm water rises it gets colder and more dense and eventually will join the column of cold water that is moving (by gravity) downwards toward the hot pencil lead. Wow…..I hope you can see the picture

The movement of the tectonic plates is caused by convection currents and it is this movement that can cause earthquakes. Hopefully when you watch the excellent video below you will see the links.

Hello. If you would like to question anything, please make a comment or ask another question.



(Anyone reading this post who wants to ask a question or make a comment please feel free to do so)

Science Master Special A Push-Pull Meter

Many years ago I and my class made a Push-Pull Meters with dowel rod and a cotton reels and had great fun with them, measuring all sorts of pushes and pulls.OK we could have used conventional force meters, the school had enough of them for class use, however making one yourself and then using it seems to make a big difference in understanding.

A recent question made me look for my plans – no chance. Search the internet – no luck. My team were of no help so I therefore decided to do the obvious thing, make one myself.

These are the drawings of my endeavours. The equipment list is cotton reel (wooden would be nice but if it’s plastic ok), a length of dowel rod with a diameter which will allow it to pass through the central hole of the cotton reel, an elastic band (probably 4 cm long but have a set of them for experimentation), a paperclip which is opened up to make a hook, some drawing pins or sellotape …….and I think thats it.

Once constructed the next task it to calibrate it. If you have access to a set of weights, great. you can create a little bag which will hold them, hang it on the hook and away you go. A 1kg mass will apply a 1 Newton force on the elastic band. This is where the choice of the elastic band is important – a thin band is obviously much more sensitive than a thick band. On the other hand, why not make up your own scale of push a pulls – a five marble/ 3 marble/1 marble push or pull. Below are the images that I created for my answer to the 10 yr olds question.


How does the wind manage to topple things like wheely bins over? With the bins being big objects how is this possible? asks Imran (10)


A useful place to start Imran would be to look at the way in which wind is can exert a very strong force. Wind is created by the Sun warming up the ground around us and the air. Sorry team, I don’t think the wind does much pulling.

Air is made up of tiny molecules. When molecules are heated, they move faster. As they move faster they become become spaced farther apart, which makes the air less dense (meaning that there are fewer molecules in a given volume). This also means that the air has a lower overall pressure (pressure is the push of the gas on it’s surroundings. In comparison, cold air is made of more tightly packed molecules, and so it is denser and has relatively higher pressure.

The warmer, lower pressure air begins to move upwards and therefore it creates space below it which is filled by the colder higher pressure air. A wind is created. The hotter the air near the surface of the Earth the lower the pressure and the faster the rise. The 2017 hurricanes were caused by the hot sea and hot temperatures near the surface.

Can you measure how much push (force) is needed to push over a wheely bin?  Let’s first make our own push-pull measurer. You will need an elastic band, cotton reel, a couple of drawing pins, some sellotape and a paper clip to make your own measurer.

You can use it directly to measure pushes and pulls just by seeing how far the cotton reel moves up the dowel rod. It would however be better if we calibrated the rod in some way. In the images below the rod has been calibrated in Newtons (theses are the units of force). To do this a 500 gramme mass was attached to the hook. It is known that a 500g mass will exert a force (pull) of 1/2 Newton. So when the mass is attached, the elastic band will stretch, and the dowel rod will be pulled down. The distance on the rod between the ‘no’ force point and the 500g point is therefore equivalent to half a Newton.

It is estimated that an 80 mph wind would have a push of about 400 Newtons per square metre and be able to move a car. A breeze 5 mph might have a push of between 5-10N per square metre. You could try your meter on a sheet of cardboard in a strong breeze and see what you get.

Imran your question was very interesting to answer and you might have some difficulty in understanding some of the stuff above. If that is the case and also for anybody else reading this PLEASE ask another question or make a Comment.

Mariah (7) asks “Why are pushes and pulls forces?”

Thanks team and thanks Mariah for the question.  My team are quite correct there are lots of pushes and pulls. Can you think of more? What about gravity? That pulls things to the ground. What about the wind, that pushes things.

In science and in our daily life we put things into groups. The things in the group all have something in common. All fish are grouped together, they can all breathe underwater. Can you see anything else they have in all fish have which is the same?
All bicycles are grouped together, they all have two wheels. They also have some other things in common (the same).

If all forces are grouped together , they all involve pushes and pulls. The group that pushes and pulls is called forces.

(Anyone reading this post who wants to ask a question or make a comment please feel free to do so)

“If I was sucked into a black hole what would make me die?” asked James (12)

James, thank you for your question. I had a similar question from  Sheereen  click here to see my, and my friends answer.

It is thought that a ‘black hole’ is produced when a rather large star comes to the end of it’s life. It collapses in on itself and forms an object of incredibly concentrated matter. As ‘gravity’ is a property of the quantity of matter (see my answer to Ernie’s question) the collapse causes an immense increase in the gravity from the  smaller collapsed star.  

It is unlikely that our Sun would end in this way as it is classified as a smallish star. It is likely to become something called a ‘Red Dwarf’ star.

The ‘black hole’ is explained by the fact that this concentration of gravity ‘pulls’ light into it, thus the ‘hole’.

Now if you were close to the collapsed star in your spaceship you would also be pulled into it and unfortunately be added to the mass of the collapsed star. Sorry, you will be crushed.

(slightly revised 20/4/2016)

“Why can heavy things float”? ask Aiden (10)


Aiden, great question,a difficult answer. I hope that you have investigated which things float and which things sink. You should be able to look around you and say ‘That floats’ and ‘That sinks”. Think about this – when something sinks it seems to be breaking the surface of the water. What is it breaking? I pass this back to my team.

The attractive forces between water molecules are called intermolecular forces. Look at this post to find out more.  When the much bigger metal boat hits the water, because of it’s design (spread out) there are lots more water particles that push on the boat and keep it floating.  Squash the boat up into a small lump of metal  and drop it into the water. What do you think will happen? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box below.



Mattheiu (Yr 4) asked “If sound can’t travel through vacuums, why are they so loud?”


This is an excellent question. We are told that sound travels through the air to us by the vibrations of the air molecules between speaker and listener. But how does is get to us from a very distant speaker? Or through a vacuum? The magic formula is that one form of energy can be converted to another form of energy, as my team have explained.

If we can convert one form of energy to another then why not convert sound, which is moving air and therefore kinetic energy (the energy of movement) to electrical energy that can be passed down a wire or through a vacuum as an electromagnetic wave to a listener a long way away. When it is received the reverse conversion process can take place where the electrical energy can be converted back to kinetic energy, via electromagnetics and loudspeakers and not forget ears and brain.  Then by controlling the input to the conversion process we can control the loudness. Magic but real.

See my Science Master Special on Energy

Any reader can ask another question or leave a Comment in the Leave a Reply box below

“What is the difference between speed and velocity” asks Sayed(11)

Absolutely right my friends. The two cars have the same speed but they are going in the opposite direction so their velocities are different.

An interesting example of the difference between
speed and velocity is when you look at an object moving at a certain speed in a circle. The speed is constant BUT the velocity is constantly changing as the object moves around the circle, see V1 and V2. The velocity at 1 is drawn as a line (representing the speed) pointing in the direction V1. This is a ‘vector’.

Sayed – this site is mainly directed at 8-13 yr olds so the answer above is very ‘general’. I have published it because younger readers might be interested in the difference between the two terms …for more information visit this site.