Beakman’s Electric Motor


For many people, learning is a real chore best avoided. The “chore” of learning comes with a lot of deep thinking, no play, and very little understanding of why the lesson needs to be learned in the first place. No fun.


Learning was different back in the 1990s when a very popular children’s TV show called Beakman’s World presented a way to make learning fun. The show’s engaging host, Paul Zaloom, played Beakman, a mad scientist who had fun with science. Lots of fun. Using humor and everyday items, he taught science in a way that captured the attention of kids and their parents, too. Beakman exposed the science behind common things in a hands-on way that made science interesting and easy to understand.


One of his most popular segments featured Beakman’s Electric Motor, made from an empty roll of toilet paper, a couple of paper clips, a rubber band or two, and a few other easy-to-find items. Here’s how he did it:



Gather all these materials before going any further:


Medium gauge magnet wire insulated with red enamel (not the plastic-coated kind)

One cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper

Scissors or wire cutter

Fine-grain sandpaper

Two large paper clips

One wide rubber band

One “D” cell alkaline battery

One rectangular ceramic magnet smaller than the battery


Optional items that might make assembly a bit easier:



Needle-nose pliers


Step #1 - Wrap the wire around the toilet paper tube seven times and cut off excess wire, leaving a tail about 3 inches long on both sides of the coil. Use a drop of glue at the outward bend of the tail to minimize slipping. Remove the toilet paper tube. Your coils should look a bit like Saturn from the side, with its ring visible on the left and right of the planet (coil) in the middle.




Step #2 - Use the sandpaper to remove all the insulation around one of the tails of the coil except for the outer 1/4 inch of the tip of the tail. Leave all the insulation on this outer 1/4 inch of the tip.




Step #3 - Lay the other wire tail on a solid surface and use the sandpaper to remove the insulation from only the top side of the coil. Leave the insulation at the outer 1/4 inch tip of the tail in place, just like you did with the other tip. Do not remove the insulation from the under side of this tail. Set the coil aside until Step #8.



Step #4 - Bend the paper clips open so they look a bit like a long, curly mustache. Pliers may help here.




Step #5 - Loop the longer “curl” of the paper clip mustache around the terminal at one end of the battery. Use the rubber band to secure it by looping it from one end of the battery to the other. You may need to make a couple of rubber band loops to create a secure fit.




Step #6 - Slide the longer curl of the other paper clip around the terminal at the other end of the battery. Slide it under the rubber band to secure it and align it with the other paper clip.


Step #7 - Stick the magnet to the battery between the two paper clip curls.



Step #8 - Cradle the tail of one end of the wire coil in the smaller curl of the paper clip mustache at one end of the battery. Cradle the other tail in the small curl at the other end. The magnet will be between the battery and the coil. Place your Beakman’s electric motor horizontally on a solid surface.




Step #9 - Give the wire coil a little push to get it started and the watch it spin rapidly.



Step #10 - Remove the coil to turn the motor off.


If the coil produces a lop-sided spin, make sure the tails of the coil are centered exactly opposite each other on either side of the coil.


If the coil doesn’t spin after a gentle push, there may still be insulation left on the wire. Sand it down a bit more thoroughly and try again.