Tail Wags Dog

Lecturer tries to swing baseball bat while standing on turntable.


Coffee Mug on a String

What it shows:

Conservation of angular momentum and the exponential increase in friction are what save the coffee mug from smashing into the floor. Use this entertaining demonstration to introduce either of those physics concepts.

How it works:

You need a pencil, a pen, a china cup (we use a china cup to add suspense and a threat of disaster), and about 1 meter of string. Tie one end of the string to the cup and the other to the pen. Hold the pencil in one hand and drape the string over it so the cup hangs down a few centimeters. Hold the pen with your other hand (arm...

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Ball on string orbits with increasing speed as string is shortened.

What it shows:

An object moving in a circular orbit of radius r has an angular momentum given by:

L = r × mv = mr2ω.

A simple way to show conservation of angular momentum is a ball on a string, whirled around your head. As you change the length of the string, the ball's orbital speed changes to conserve angular momentum.

How it works:

The orbiter consists of a meter length of cord with a wooden ball at one end and a wooden anchor at the other. The cord passes...

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Three Dumbbells

Lecturer rotates on turntable whilst holding two dumbbells.

What it shows:

Angular momentum, the product of a body's moment of inertia and angular velocity, is always conserved. A reduction in moment of inertia will result in a proportional rise in angular velocity.

How it works:

A volunteer holds the other two dumbbells 1 in each hand and stands upon a rotating platform. 2 With arms outstretched and a little push they begin to rotate at a certain angular velocity. By pulling in their arms to their chest, the moment of inertia is...

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Special Bouncing Collisions

Same as previous except that mass ratio of balls is 1:3 (softball:basketball) leaving basketball dead and softball four times the height.

tennis and basketball

Newton's Cradle

What it shows:

Demonstration of elastic collisions between metal balls to show conservation of momentum and energy.

How it works:

Newton's Cradle (less affectionately known as Newton's Balls) consists of six rigid balls hanging in a row with bifilar suspension. The balls hang so that they just barely touch their neighbor.

Various initial conditions can be employed. A single ball displaced will collide with the remaining four, sending the ball at the far end off. Same idea for two or three balls. Four balls, and only the first two will stop; the center two...

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Potential Well

Orbital motion simulated by ball rolling on wooden potential well.

What it shows:

Motion in a central potential is demonstrated by a ball rolling on a circular 1/r curved surface.

How it works:

The 1/r potential well simulates the gravitational potential surrounding a point mass; a ball bearing moving in this potential follows a parabolic or elliptical orbit depending upon its initial trajectory and velocity. As it loses energy due to friction, the orbit decays and the ball spirals towards the centre of the well. You could...

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Reversible (Kater's) Pendulum

A physical pendulum with two adjustable knife edges for an accurate determination of "g".

What It Shows

An important application of the pendulum is the determination of the value of the acceleration due to gravity. By adding a second knife-edge pivot and two adjustable masses to the physical pendulum described in the Physical Pendulum demo, the value of g can be determined to 0.2% precision.

How It Works

Using a simple pendulum, the value of g can be determined by...

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