You can find iron shavings in your breakfast cereal with the help of some water, time, and a neodymium magnet. That might sound very strange at first, but iron-fortified cereals are common. Iron is an essential mineral for our bodies, and though it can be found in iron-rich foods like meats, fish, leafy dark green vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as some fruits like prune juice and olives, it’s also added to some cereals, infant formulas, and bread.
This BBC Science Focus video demonstrates how to extract and see those tiny bits of iron.
From a young age we are taught that iron is a nutrient that makes us strong. It is a vital component of hemoglobin, which is the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen.
Since the 1940s, breakfast cereals have been fortified with a variety of vitamins and minerals, and today they represent one of the key ways that children meet their daily iron requirements. This is especially true for youngsters who otherwise have an unvaried and nutrient-poor diet.
Unlike iron that occurs naturally in meat and veg, the iron in cereals is added as a powder during production. Few people realise that it looks just like iron filings. Get hold of the strongest magnet you can find, then extract the iron from your cereal to see it with your own eyes.
A few experiment variations: Use a smooth plastic bottle to observe the filings. It should seal and withstand observations better than a plastic baggie. You can also shake a bottle to help create the cereal mush, or put the cereal in a blender before observation to speed things up.
And by the way, don’t eat the extracted iron. As Scientific American notes: “it wouldn’t be healthy to eat iron on its own, so stick to getting your daily dose via food and vitamins.” More observations:
What happened when you ran the magnet over the whole cereal flakes? What happened when you passed the magnet over the crushed cereal powder? How much iron were you able to extract from your cereal? Were you able to get more by dissolving the cereal powder in water? Check the nutrition facts label to see how much iron each serving actually contains (keep in mind that this tabletop project might not be able to get all of the iron out of the cereal).
As it is in Earth’s rocks and soil, the iron in your breakfast cereal is attached to the other substances around it. But when you crush the cereal down, it helps to free up the iron particles, so they can be picked up by the magnet (dissolving the other parts of the cereal frees up the iron even more).
Related resources: Science Buddies has a good introduction to the Nutrition Facts labels on food packaging.
These Physics Central project instructions are also a helpful.
And which cereal has the most iron? This comparison makes for a great science project via Study.com and Education.com.
Next, watch more videos exploring neodymium magnets, minerals, and breakfast science, including:
• Surface tension and The Cheerios Effect
• How Much Sugar Are You Really Eating?
• How to collect black sand with a magnet
• Butterflies and bees drinking turtle tears in the Peruvian Amazon
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