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Try This at Home: Magnetic Cell

Illustrated Concepts

Some nanotechnologies can be useful in medicine.

What You Need

  • 1 paperclip
  • 1 grape
  • 1 magnet

What To Do

  1. Make sure you have an adult with you to supervise this experiment.
  2. Straighten out the paperclip. Do you think the paperclip will magnetically stick to the magnet? Hold the magnet close to the paperclip. What happens?
  3. Do you think the grape will magnetically stick to the magnet? Hold the magnet close to the grape. What happens?
  4. Make a hypothesis! How can you make the grape move using the magnet?
  5. Stick the paperclip all the way through the grape. Hold the magnet close to the paperclip. Can you drag the grape across the table using the magnet now?
  6. Clean up.


What’s Happening

Although the grape itself is not magnetic, it can be moved around by a magnet when there is something magnetic inside it. Now, imagine the paperclip is a magnetic nanowire and the grape is a cell in your body. Scientists are working on ways to get nanowires inside of human bodies. These nanowires are coated with special proteins that make them stick to certain cells in need of medical attention. Since the nanowires are so small, they can insert themselves into cells without harming it, just like the grape remains intact. Magnets outside of the body can then be used to move the cells to a better area for treatment. This kind of nanotechnology could be very helpful in treating cancer and other diseases that affect certain cells.

Fun Fact

A ‘buckyball’ is a nano-sized soccer ball made from 60 carbon atoms. Buckyballs can bounce off of hard surfaces and spring back into shape, just like a soccer ball!