Recent Posts

Hyperbolic Holes

This inexpensive kit available here: From eBay: BUY NOW
Hyperbolic Holes Kit

Hyperbolic Holes: a straight rod, in this case a pencil, glides through a symmetrical pair of curved holes. The design is based on the hyperboloid, the 3D ruled surface traced by an offset rotating diagonal line. This device is sold as an inexpensive kit to assemble yourself, and includes a motor with geared drive and pre-cut pieces. The pencil is my addition- just the right size to clear the curved openings.

Magnetic Poles & Fields

Get a set here: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Magnetic Field Viewer set 

Viewing Magnetic Poles: visualizing the invisible- tiny iron filings suspended in viscous oil gracefully chain up to reveal the presence of magnetic field lines. Can you determine how the magnetic polls are configured by the structure of the field lines? Here three configurations, initially hidden behind white foam board, create the beautiful mappings of the fields. 

Faraday Train

Here's the parts to make your own: 
From eBay: BUY NOW Neodymium Spheres 15mm 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Bare Copper Wire 10 gauge 

The wire used for the Faraday Train has to be bare- so make sure it does not have any kind of clear coating on it. The solid grounding wire sold at hardware stores works great. 

Here is a nice description of the Faraday Train and the physics of its propulsion

Faraday Train: two magnets, one battery, and a coil of bare copper wire are the simple essence of this self propelled craft. The magnets conduct electricity, thus when put in contact with the coil current will flow creating a solenoidal magnetic field in the vicinity of the battery, which in turn pushes on the magnets at each end of the battery moving the craft along. The spherical neodymium magnets used allows the craft to slide along the coil with minimal friction. 


Lenz's Law

Get a similar kit here: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Eddy Current tubes

Get some magnetic viewing film here: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Magnetic Viewing Film 

Lenz's Law: a strong neodymium magnet falls slowly down a copper bus bar as though passing through a viscous liquid. Since magnetic fields pass through copper, magneview film reveals the location of the falling dipole magnet. Moving magnetic fields from the falling magnet produce electric currents in the copper. These currents then produce magnetic fields that have the opposite polarity to the initial field. So a falling magnet makes the copper pipe briefly into an electromagnet that repels the magnet. The rectangular copper “pipe” is from a water-cooled electromagnet power supply line, 1.5 x 2 in (4 x 5 cm) in cross-section, designed to supply a steady DC current of 5000 amps. This 15” long piece weighs in at 12 lbs and has a 1/2” diameter hole for coolIng water to flow down its center. From a decommissioned particle accelerator magnet. 

Cone of Apollonius

Similar models available here:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Cone of Apollonius

From Etsy: BUY NOW: Cone of Apollonius

Cone of Apollonius: Slicing a cone with a plane will produce the famous curves known as the conic sections, as demonstrated with this beautiful vintage wood model by Nasco. Slicing at a right angle to the cone’s axis of symmetry produces a circle, and tilting the intersecting plane a bit produces an ellipse. When the plane is tilted parallel to the side of the cone the curve produced is a parabola, and tilting even further creates a hyperbola. The discovery of the mathematics demonstrated here are attributed to Apollonius of Perga from about 250 BC- thousands of years later Kepler, Newton, and others showed these conic sections to be intricately connected to many branches of physics such as planetary orbits and the optics of telescopes.


Ring Catch Chain Trick

Get a set here: 
From eBay:(best selecton) BUY NOW Ring Chain Catch 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Ring and Chain Set 

The physics of this trick in great detail with more slow motion: Ring Falling into a Chain: No Magic — Just Physics 

Ring Catch Chain Trick: a solid ring will be caught by a loop of chain if it tumbles during its fall. By Newton's Third law, when the ring twists into and hits the chain, the impact transfers momentum to the end of the chain, which rises up and over the ring- seen here in 480 fps slow motion. 

Perspective Puzzle

Vintage puzzles in this series are sometimes available on eBay: 
From eBay: Search NOW Virtual Illusion 3D Puzzle 

Perspective Puzzle: ten flat images, when ordered and spaced correctly, combine to produce this 3D illusion of structure and depth. This vintage toy by Mattel was sold as “Virtual Illusion 3D Puzzle” where the challenge is to scramble/shuffle the 12 sheets and then place them in the correct orientation and order to complete the image. A fun application of the math and physics of anamorphosis and perspective. 

Lissajous Roller 

Available from Pyrigan & Co.

From Etsy: BUY NOW: Lissajous Roller Illusion

From ShapeWays: BUY NOW: LIssajous Roller Illusion

Lissajous Roller: when viewing this 3D printed object from the side one sees a projection of a 3:2 Lissajous curve, but the object is actually cylindrical in frame and can roll towards or away from the viewer. When in motion a “dual axis illusion” is produced where the object appears to be rotating about a vertical axis. Invented by Bill Gosper and produced by Pyrigan & Co. 


Surfs Up Wave Machine

This Simpson's themed wave machine was made back in 1999-2000 and is hard to find. Here is a fairly inexpensive wave machine that has a similar base mechanism: 
From eBay: BUY NOW Liquid Wave Machine

Surf's Up Wave Machine: Bart rides a surfboard between two immiscible liquids which are sorted under gravity by density with the densest (dyed water) on the bottom and the lightest (mineral oil) on top. Bart’s board has a density between that of the two liquids so it stays at the boundary layer, and a capsule of air above Bart’s head keeps him upright. The motorized rocking mechanism in the base is powered by one C cell battery and produces the waves at the boundary layer by sloshing and colliding the dense liquid off each end. Found this rare 1999 toy on eBay.  

Advanced Gyro: Hybrid Spinning Top

Get one from David Fowler's shop: 
From PhysicsHack: BUY NOW: Advanced Gyro
Made with extraordinary craftsmanship and high quality materials, and sold at a very reasonable price! 

Hybrid Gyroscope Top: the Advanced Gyro is a new design by @physicshack and in defiance of gravity this gyroscope can hang from a string attached only at one end. No pull cord needed, this unique design spins up via friction with a working surface (thin cardboard works well) and applying a circular motion to bring the rotor up to 1000s of RPM. Machined from solid stainless steel this top weighs in at about half a kilo, providing inertia that produces long spin times. 

Unmixing Density Column

The bottle used here is from Voss Water: a nice cylinder and the labels come off easily. Amazon has the ingedients:

From Amazon: BUY NOW 
acetoneblue glitterfood coloring, Voss Water

The density column I made for this video is based on blend of two ideas: this "science snack" from the exploratorium: Klutz-Proof Density Column and this ChemED X post: Blog of Prof. Tom Kuntzleman  

See my Salt Fractionation post for details. 

Unmixing Density Column: three liquids that won’t stay mixed! Acetone (dyed blue) floats on top of the higher density vegetable oil, which in turn floats atop salt water (dyed orange) which is more dense than oil. Acetone usually dissolves in water through hydrogen bonding interactions, but solubility can be altered. In a process called “salting out” a sufficient amount of salt is dissolved such that the water molecules, which are much more attracted to the resulting Na+ and Cl- ions (through ion-dipole bonds), will then ignore the weaker acetone hydrogen bonds. This results in the spontaneous separation of these three liquids no matter how well shaken up. 


Vibration Unthreading

Get inexpensive small motors and accesories for DIY projects here:
From Amazon: BUY NOW DC Motors Kit

A DIY project to see if just shaking a bolt at the right frequency could make a standard nut rotate and fall off. Similar physics to the phase locking propeller toy featured in my last post. Motivated by videos seen on Instagram where a brass bolt is placed in magnetic putty and the nut mysteriously rotates up and off- now convinced that vibration is how that effect is produced. Here a small DC motor spins an offset mass to produce the vibrations.

Impossible Dovetail

Inexpensive versions of this "impossible box" like that in the video avaiable here:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Impossible Box Puzzle

Impossible Dovetail: this impossible object is pretty common, but it is a classic, and included in my collection. If one assumes a regular dovetail joint then this construction would indeed seem impossible without cutting and gluing, but what one sees from the sides makes for misleading assumptions as this box opens easily. Swipe for reveal once you’ve thought about about possible constructions. 

Reverse Cartesian Diver

Glass divers available here: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Glass Divers 

The reverse diver needs a bottle with a oval shaped cross section. I used the bottle from this product- it has the right shape and size and the label comes off easily: 
 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Oval Shaped Bottle Source 

Inexpensive and fun diver kits available here: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Cartesian Diver Kits 

Wikipedia has the details on the Cartesian diver (and reverse diver)

Reverse Cartesian Diver: physics puzzle (swipe for hint). On the left is a Cartesian diver- pressing on the bottle forces water into the glass diver, which then compresses the bubble in diver’s head allowing it to sink. On the right is a reverse Cartesian diver- again the bottle is pinched but this time the diver ascends- why? 


Mirror Anamorphic Cup & Saucer

Get a set here: 
From Etsy: BUY NOW 
Anamophic Cup & Saucer 

Mirror Anamorphic Cup & Saucer: the cylindrical mirror of the silver cup reflects and reveals the distorted scene of a carousel ride with four horses and the buildings of Macau Heritage City. The shape of the mirror allows for a mathematical operation, a type of affine transformation, to map the distorted image on the plate to the restored image reflected on the cup. A nice example of mirror anamorphosis through the medium of ceramics. 

Wringing Guage Blocks

Guage block sets can be a bit pricy, but some fairly inexpensive pieces and small sets can be found for demonstrations and such:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Gauge Blocks

Wikipedia has a nice description of Gauge Blocks and the Phenomenon of Wringing

Wringing Gauge Blocks: two blocks of metal (not magnets!) will stick together by a process called wringing if their surfaces are flat to high precision- such as these gauge blocks found in most machine shops. Here two blocks are forced apart with a snap, and then wrung back together with the characteristic sliding motion technique. Gauge blocks are flat to less that one millionth of a meter and are used by machinists for precision length measurements and calibration. The science of the wring force remains somewhat a mystery and no one has yet found a fully excepted physics description- but we do know that blocks will wring in a vacuum and that the force can be up to 30 times that of weight of the blocks. Fun physics from the shop!

How a Slinky Falls

Get the classic here: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Mini Slinky 

Get a giant version of the slinky here! 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Giant Slinky: Super Wave Spring 

How a Slinky Falls: amazing physics demonstration with this classic toy. The center of mass of the slinky spring falls with an acceleration of g- note in this slow motion video that the bottom of the slinky does not move until the spring is fully collapsed. Hooke's law plus gravity!