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 centipetal accelration phyenomenon. 

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.

Thermochromic Liquid Crystal Mood Necklace

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Neclace featured in video: Earthbound Trading Co

Thermochromic Liquid Crystal “Mood” Necklace: heat from a hand brings out the temperature dependent color change of the liquid crystal. The molecules of the liquid crystal change orientation and spacing during the phase transition from liquid (warm) to crystal (cool). The molecular configuration shift allows for different diffraction effects producing the color shift. 


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Oil Drop Timer

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From Amazon: BUY NOW Dolphin Timer 

Oil Drop Timer with Dolphins: immiscible fluids of different densities stay separate under gravity with the lightest density on top. The density of the plastic dolphins is greater than the density of the top fluid but less than the density of the bottom fluid, so they stay at the boundary in equilibrium. The dolphins have a metal weight in their tails so that the buoyant force will keep them upright even as the liquids trade places (2 minutes shown in time-lapse). Archimedes' Principal at work here at multiple levels. 


Drinking Bird Heat Engine

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

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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!

Switch Pitch Ball

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Switch Pitch

Switch Pitch Ball: this spherical assembly changes color by turning inside out when tossed into the air. Advertisements for this toy incorrectly claim air drag is involved in the transformation. The ball is made of multiple components hinged together. In launching the ball from the hand an upward acceleration results in a torque that pivots each component around its center of mass, causing the rotation of these components in an organized way leading to the transformation. Imagine tossing a stick straight up. If the stick is perfectly vertical upon launch it will move straight up- but if it is initially slanted at all it will also begin to rotate upon launch. Similar physics underlies the motion of each component of the ball- shown here in 240 fps slow motion. The Switch Pitch is produced by the makers of the Hoberman Sphere.

Pixelated Playing Cards

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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.


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Mini Wind Turbine

Nice little unit for less than $10 
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!

Mini Balance Pterosaur

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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. 


Dudney's Dissection 3D Print

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From Etsy: BUY NOW: Dudney's Dissection 3D Print

Dudeney's Dissection: an equilateral triangle canbe cut (dissected) into four pieces that will then assemble into a square. This 3D printed version comes as a puzzle- fit the pieces in each of two containers- a square and a triangle, which also makes it clear the two supplied shapes are of equal area. Fun fact: It is not known if a similar three piece dissection is possible. Also called Haberdasher's problem and described in 1907 by Henry Dudeney it is the only 4 piece solution known.

Time's Up

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Inverted Timer 


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Inverted Timer 

Time's Up: inverse of the sandglass- tiny plastic beads are less dense than the water and thus ascend to the top of the container under the influence of a buoyant force in accordance with Archimedes' principle. This timer takes almost exactly 6 minutes to complete shown here at normal speed for the first half of this video, and the second half is condensed to 24 seconds in time-lapse. 


Static Spheres

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From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW: Static Spheres

Click here for other static electricity devices

Static Spheres: triboelectric effect toy. The red acetate spheres are given an acquired net negative charge, and their mutual repulsion allows them to jump a centimeter or more as charge is manipulated on the PET plastic container. Bringing an object near the container momentarily moves electrons (charge) around creating repulsive forces (sphere v. sphere) and attractive forces (spheres and container) resulting in the observed motions. The red spheres interact with each other without coming into physical contact (as shown in 240 fps slow motion) as like charges repel. Shaking the system a bit allows the red spheres to pick up charge in the first place by colliding with the container.

Pop Pop Boat

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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.