You may remember playing with the stretchy and colorful goo-like globs called silly putty when you were a kid. Putty was actually invented by accident during World War II by James Wright, an engineer trying to come up with a cost-effective alternative to rubber for the U.S. military. He accidentally poured boric acid into silicone oil, creating the main ingredients of the the elastic toy we know today. However, the putty we know today wasn’t marketed as a fun pastime until Peter Hodgson saw its potential as a toy and bought the production rights after it was rendered useless as the military’s rubber alternative.

One substance that is even more fun to experiment with than putty is magnetic putty. Magnetic putty has the same squishy texture as silly putty, but reacts with magnets in eye-catching ways. You can make your own magnetic putty with this simple and quick tutorial. Because this this experiment uses iron oxide powder it is meant for adult-use only and should not be done with small children.

Supplies

  • Putty
  • Iron oxide powder (can find at most art supply stores)
  • Neodymium magnets
  • Face mask
  • Disposable gloves
  • Newspaper or plastic

Steps

  1. Open your putty and warm it by rolling it around in your hands for a few minutes or until it is stretchy.
  2. In a well-ventilated area, lay down your newspaper or plastic to protect surfaces from staining.
  3. Roll the putty out into a flat round shape.
  4. Put on your gloves and face mask, and open the iron oxide powder container. Working with iron oxide powder can produce dust that should not be inhaled or ingested in any way, so it is crucial that you wear protective gear.
  5. Add a small amount of iron oxide powder in the center of the flattened putty. A teaspoon amount should be adequate.
  6. When finished with the iron oxide, be sure to seal the container to prevent any excess dust emission.
  7. Fold over the putty to cover the iron and begin to knead and work the putty in your hands until the iron is completely dispersed within it. When the putty is completely black throughout, it is ready.

You have now made your own magnetic silly putty! Take a neodymium magnet and watch how the putty reacts. A couple of neat tricks that you can try are:

  • Putty following a magnet - Thin the putty out by stretching it into a worm-like form and hold your magnet close to it. Move the magnet around and watch the putty follow it.
  • Putty engulfing a magnet - Place a magnet next to the glob of putty and watch as it is slowly swallows the magnet.

If you enjoyed this tutorial, check out our News and How-To’s page for more magnet experiments! If you want to see magnetic putty and magnets in action, view the video by Vimeo user, Abby, below:

Magnetic Putty from Abby Orlando Sweet on Vimeo.

Photo by Kossaki