Budget physics

Micro Racer in a Glass

These micro racer cars are sold under many brand names, and most come with a clear sphere to demonstrate this centripetal acceleration phenomenon. 

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Micro Racer + Sphere

Micro Racer in a Glass: This tiny battery powered car overcomes gravity through centripetal acceleration and slight friction with the glass surface. With sufficient velocity the surface normal force supplies the centripetal acceleration. The car’s battery last for many minutes and is USB rechargeable.

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Pixelated Playing Cards

Available from these fine sources: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Pixel Cards 
From eBay: BUY NOW Pixel Cards

Pixelated Playing Cards: what one sees is all about the lighting with this transparent deck of cards. When backlit these poker sized cards become simply a grid of dots- reminding us that what we see not only concerns the physical properties of the perceived object, but also the location of the light source and the frequency and intensity of its emissions.

Mini Balance Pterosaur

Get this mini prehistoric balance beast here: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Balance Pterosaur

Mini Balance Pterosaur: weights in the forward wing tips create a center of mass below this pterosaur's beak- making a system that can rotate and oscillate about a stable equilibrium condition. No magnets used or needed for this physics! Usually this toy is found in the form of a bird (direct dinosaur descendent). Pterosaurs are not dinosaurs, but are the largest animals to ever fly, and powered flight has only evolved four times: bats, birds, pterosaurs, and insects- in reverse order. 

Glow Trace Chaotic Pendulum Kit

Get this super nice, affordable, and fun to assemble kit here:
From KiwiCo: BUY NOW: Glow Pendulum Kit

Get amazing quatilty science kits delievered to your home- this glow pendulum is part of the Tinker Crate subscription. 
From KiwiCo: LEARN MORE: Tinker Crate Subscription

Glow Trace Chaotic Pendulum: this fun and DIY kit features a UV diode to trace the intricate path of this double pendulum system on to a phosphorescent screen, revealing the physics of chaotic motion. It’s amazing that such complex motion can arise from a simple assembly of two pendulums, one attached to the end of the other. Chaotic motion, such as that observed here, is characterized by extreme sensitivity to initial starting conditions, tiny differences in how the system is released leads to dramatically different outcomes each time. 

 


Pop Pop Boat

Get one here: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Pop-Pop Boat 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Pop-Pop Boats 

Wikipedia has the details on the physics and history of this little steamboat toy 

Pop-Pop Boat: birthday candle powered, super simple steam engine named after the sound it makes when operating. The engine is just a metal box, heated by the candle, with two pipes coming out of it. Steam builds up pushing water out with an explosive pop- which then creates a vacuum sucking more water in to repeat the process. Patented in 1915 these were very popular in the 1940's.

Reaction Rocket

The essence of a great physics toy: simple design showing comlex physics 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Reaction Rocket 

Reaction Rocket: projectile launch via momentum transfer in slow motion. The superball/straw base bounces off the table top and then immediately collides with the bottom of the rocket sending it off with a velocity slightly less than 3 times the velocity of the rising ball (true if the ball is more than three times the mass of the rocket). Newton's third law in action! Note that the rocket rises much higher than the drop height (up to 9 times higher).

Drinking Bird Heat Engine

Get this famous physics toy from these sources: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW 
Drinking Bird Engine 

From Amazon: BUY NOW 
Drinking Bird Engine 


Wikipedia has wonderful details about the rich history (and further descriptions of the operational principals) of the Drinking Bird
Drinking Bird Heat Engine: time lapse of 15 minutes into 15 seconds (4 cycles). Cooling by evaporation at the head leads to lower pressure in the top bulb, the dichloromethane fluid rises up the neck making the bird top heavy and the bird tips over dipping its beak and letting the fluid return to the bottom bulb. The time lapse allows a clearer picture of how the fluid rises, shifting the center of mass, and how tipping makes the glass column lift out of the fluid in the bottom allowing the pressure to equalize and letting gravity pull the fluid to return to the base. Process repeats as long as the top stays wet. So much physics in one hypnotic toy!


Sprial Oil Drop Timer

Get one here:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Oil Drop Timers

Spiral Oil Drop Timer: when this drop timer achieves its steady state the drops form with amazing regularity in terms of both the size of the drop and the spacing between drops. The physics of immiscible liquids, surface tension, viscosity, and gravity combine to produce these interesting patterns. 

 

Mini Wind Turbine

Nice little unit for the price! 
From eBay: BUY NOW Mini Wind Turbine 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Mini Wind Turbine 

Mini Wind Turbine: self-contained miniature horizontal axis wind turbine generates enough power to light three LEDs. A small turbine blade is attached to the rotor of a tiny generator that powers the LEDs. Conversion of energy- wind kinetic energy to rotational kinetic energy to electrical energy to light energy. I like how the wind vane and tower are also designed from acrylic as light pipes for the LED light. A fun little toy that demonstrates the physics of renewable energy!

Glass Hydro-Top

Available in four colors and designs: 
From the @physicsfun collection: BUY NOW: Glass Water Tops

Glass Hydro-Top: under centripetal acceleration a liquid will flow to create a cylindrical surface parallel to the axis of rotation. This blown glass dreidel contains a small amount of colored water that when spun resembles a blue gemstone banded around the rim. A unique design with fun physics!


TrueBalance

Get the full version (8 disks made of wood) or the mini (6 disks, blue or red plastic): 
From Amazon: BUY NOW TrueBalance Coordination Puzzle 

TrueBalance: coordination challenge puzzle- get the six disks, connected by bearing swivels, into a vertical stack by only tilting the handle. Harder than it looks to get each disk’s center of mass above the one below at the same time into the unstable equilibrium final state. The swivels constrain the system, limiting the degrees of freedom, and allowing strange and interesting motion. Kinetic art as a toy! 

Acrylic Rattleback

These acrylic versions work great and are inexpensive: 

From STEMCell Science: BUY NOW: Rattlebacks 

Acrylic Rattleback: a favorite from my collection- prefers to spin counter clockwise. If spun clockwise, a complicated combination of friction, precession, and instability induced vibrations transforms the rotational energy into into rattling (energy of oscillations) and then into rotational energy in the opposite direction! This behavior is related to the asymmetric shape of the bottom of this kind of rattleback, it's somewhat propeller shaped with an "S" curve along the bottom ridge


Homopolar Motor

Fairly simple to make- here are the inexpensive supplies needed to make a few of these motors. 
AA batteries have a diameter of 14.5 mm, so a bottom magnet with a diameter of 15 mm is just right: 
From eBay: BUY NOW Neodymium Disk Magnet 

Wire that looks and works well is just 10 gauge ground wire. Inexpensive and available at any local hardware store-- or order a small quantity here: 
From eBay: BUY NOW 10 gauge Copper Wire 

Wikipedia has some good details on the physics of homopolar motors 

Homopolar Motor: a minimalist electric motor- battery, wire, and magnet. This type of motor does not need a commutator- the polarity of the electromagnetic coil does not need to reverse. The challenge with this design is balancing the coil to center on the battery as it rotates. A favorite DIY physics toy!