Slinky Wave Cradle

Longitudinal wave demo with suspended slinky.

What it shows:

Demonstration of longitudinal traveling waves in a spring. 

How it works:

The Slinky hangs with a bifilar suspension from a rigid thin-walled electrical conduit frame, which is light, strong and cheap. In total, 23 suspension points run the length of the spring; the cord is a thick cotton thread that attaches to a loop of the Slinky with No.10 fishing swivels. The layout of the Slinky and frame are shown in figure 1, but the thread has been...

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Rotating Saddle

Mechanical analog of a Paul Trap particle confinement—a ball is trapped in a time-varying quadrupole gravitational potential.

How it works:

A large saddle shape (attached to a plywood disk) is mounted on a multi-purpose turntable. The saddle shape is essentially a quadrupole gravitational potential. Rotation of...

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Big Chladni Plate

What it shows:

A large square metal plate, supported and harmonically driven at its center, is made to vibrate in any one of its numerous normal modes of vibration. As with the regular Chladni Plates, the two-dimensional standing wave patterns are made visible by sand accumulating along the nodal lines. What is different in this demonstration is that a multitude of resonances (across the entire audio range and lower ultrasonic frequencies) can easily be excited. Being a two-dimensional oscillator, the various resonance frequencies are not simply multiples of the...

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Barton's Pendulum

Ten coupled pendulums of different lengths; shows resonance and phase.

What it shows:

All objects have a natural frequency of vibration or resonant frequency. If you force a system—in this case a set of pendulums—to oscillate, you get a maximum transfer of energy, i.e. maximum amplitude imparted, when the driving frequency equals the resonant frequency of the driven system. The phase relationship between the driver and driven oscillator is also related by their relative frequencies of oscillation.

How it works:

Barton's Pendulum...

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Shattering Wineglass

Large speaker with signal generator/amplifier destroys a wineglass; stroboscopic illumination shows vibration mode.

What it shows:

Sound waves of the right frequency are used to excite a wineglass in one or two of its normal modes of vibration. Stroboscopic illumination makes it possible to actually see the vibrations in apparent slow motion. When the intensity of the sound is increased, the large undulations of the glass exceed its elastic limit and cause it to shatter. This can be done in the fundamental or next higher normal mode of vibration ... a beautiful and dramatic...

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Driven Damped Oscillator

Single air track glider, with and without variable frequency driver, variable damping, and oscilloscope position vs. time display.

What It Shows

With one end of the car attached via a spring to the end of the track and the other end of the car coupled (via a similar spring) to a driving motor, we can see how the car behaves when it is driven below, at, and above the resonance frequency. Markings on the motor help to show the phase relationships between the driver and car at different frequencies. A storage scope tracks the motion of the car (see Setting It Up...

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Circular Motion and Simple Harmonic Motion

Simultaneous shadow projection of circular motion and bouncing weight on spring.

What It Shows

One of the simplest of periodic motions is uniform circular motion. By shadow projecting both uniform circular motion and oscillatory simple harmonic motion onto a screen, one can show that these two seemingly different kinds of motion are actually identical.

How It Works

A 8 cm diameter plastic ball mounted near the edge of a 46 cm diameter disk undergoes uniform circular motion. The disk, oriented vertically, is driven by a 57 RPM motor.1 A large...

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55 Gallon Drum

What it Shows

With an air pressure of 105 Nm-2 at sea level, even a heavy duty oil drum will be crushed if it has nothing inside to balance the pressure.

How it Works

The screw cap on the drum is fitted with a vacuum pump connector. Simply turn on the Varian SD-200 pump and wait—it usually takes a few minutes to pump down, so you can carry on with what you were doing interrupted by various creaks and bangs as the drum's side walls begin to give. Because drums of this size are ribbed for strength, they can hold up under the strain, but when it...

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Inverted Pascal Experiment

What it shows:

This is a concept question relating to Pascal's cask-bursting experiment. Imagine the experiment inverted—literally! Attach a 20-ft length of tubing to the opening of a can full of water. Turn the can upside down and raise it high. Will the water stay in the can, or will it run out? Will atmospheric pressure hold up the column of water in the tubing? What will happen? Have the class vote.


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Golf Ball Atmosphere

A model of molecular motion and pressure using practice golf balls.

What it shows:

The kinetic energy of gas molecules bouncing off a surface causes pressure.

Increasing the molecules' speeds increases the pressure and the volume of the gas.


How it works:

Plastic practice golf balls represent...

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Collapsible Cow

What it shows:

A small crude spindly model of a cow is able to support five times its own weight. Another model, scaled up exactly six times in all dimensions, collapses under its own weight! Assuming that strength is proportional to cross-sectional area (∝ dimension 2) and weight is proportional to volume (∝ dimension 3), simply scaling the model up geometrically leads to the situation where the weight is too great for its strength.

How it works:

This demonstration was inspired by R.H. Stinson's apparatus note in the AJP (see References...

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Egg Shell Strength

What it shows:

Eggs have a reputation for being quite strong under compressional loads. You won't believe your eyes when you see how strong they actually are — an egg can support a person!

How it works:

An egg shell is a composite material, but primarily calcium carbonate, "nature's ceramic."1 We assume the ultimate compressional strength of the material to be about the same as bone (which is mostly calcium phosphate, but never mind): 170x106 N/m2. The diameter of a "large" chicken egg is about 1.75" and the typical shell...

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Foucault Pendulum

Plane of pendulum oscillation appears to change due to rotation of Earth.

What it shows:

Due to the rotation of the Earth, the plane of oscillation of a pendulum will rotate with respect to the surface beneath it. We expect a rotation of about 10˚/hr at our latitude of 42.˚

How it works:

Here the observer standing on the Earth resides in the reference frame, with the swinging pendulum oscillating in a rotating frame. From the pendulum's point of view, it keeps oscillating in the same plane, but the Earth spins below it. The deflection from its original plane...

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