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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

Wondrous Magnets by Amber Stechyshyn

As a young child, I had a thing for magnets.

Normally, we kept them on the kitchen fridge so my mom or dad could tack things on, like paintings my sister and I created, important business cards, emergency phone numbers for babysitters, and so on. Some of the magnets were just for me, though. I'd play with them along the surface of the fridge like a vertical countryside. There were magnets shaped like ladybugs, characters from cartoons, as well as a couple of extremely powerful magnets that my dad let me play with, which had no interesting shape or colour, but were among my favourites. I was amazed by how strong they were, how they could repel other magnets using this invisible force, and that they could stick to almost anything metal... as well as affect other items around the house.

I was an extremely curious child, so I would go around the house, sticking the magnet to doorknobs, mirror frames, faucets, shelf brackets, and toys. I tried other surfaces as well, just to see if it would have an effect on them. Speakers and radios made funny noises, compasses could be controlled through the glass, and television sets... well, those were amazing because you could paint them different colours.
One day, my sister and I decided to repaint the show we were watching, dragging our magnets along the glass, and watching as the colours would trail after them like adoring puppies. Leaving the magnet on the surface made the pixels twitch and shake, and the magnet's proximity affected which colour appeared.  We studied our masterpiece for a while, then it finally dawned on us - this could be permanent!  Luckily, our parents were away at the time, so punishment would be postponed, but we had to figure out how to fix it. My sister and I, using childhood logic, figured that all the colours were there, they just needed to be rearranged in their proper places, so we should be able to use the magnets to put them back again!
The magnets transformed from magic paintbrushes to precision tools as we meticulously shifted colours from here to there,  or going over the entire screen in wide swaths to stop the flickering and shifting. Sometimes it was like working with a Rubik's cube- you'd fix one section of the screen, but then another would be the improper colour as a result.
I couldn't tell you how long it took to fix the colours to roughly their proper shades, but eventually we fixed it. We stared at the screen, exhausted but happy with our work, and heaved a sigh of relief that the inevitable punishment had been averted. We returned the magnets to the fridge and there they stayed, but every once in a while, the colours on the TV would be messed up, and my parents would watch me, puzzled, as I grabbed a magnet from the fridge and said, “Let me fix that.”

Amber Stechyshyn is from Toronto, ON.

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