All physicsfun toys

Variable Hue Lamp

This fairly inexpensive hue lamp is made by IKEA and is available here: 
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DIODER Variable Color Lamp 

Explore the physics of light and color with this excellent kit: 
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Thames & Kosmos Optical Science Kit

Variable Hue Lamp: Seeing color is both about the source of illumination and the reflective and absorptive properties of the observed object. These colorful images look drastically different as this illumination source cylces through a wide range of hues via variable mixtures of red, green, and blue wavelengths. A demonstration that explores some of the complexities underlying the physics and psychophysics of color vision. 

Invar Alloy Precision Cubic Inch

Get a cube here: 
From Criaghill Accessories: BUY NOW 
Invar Cubic Inch 

Wikipedia has the details on the history and properties of Invar 

Invar Alloy Precision Cubic Inch: celebrating the Imperial measurement unit of length, this cube is 1 inch on each side ± 0.001 (one mil) and is made of Invar, a special alloy of nickel and iron that has an anomalously low coefficient of thermal expansion. Invented in 1896 by Charles Guillaume, invar is 10 times more resistant to thermal expansion than steel allowing production of much more sensitive scientific equipment, and was deemed such an important discovery that he won the Nobel Prize in 1920. This cube can go from 0°F to 100°F and still be within the tolerances marked on its side! Amazingly, physicists have yet to find consensus why invar has such an anomalously low CTE. Thanks to the creators at @craighillcompany for sending me this precise and wonderfully impractical cube! 

Floating Hourglass Puzzle

These hourglass puzzles were produced in France in the 1970s and are hard to find. Luck was with me when I found this on on Etsy last month! I've been looking for one ever since I learned about them in this book by Martin Gardner: 
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Smart Science Tricks 

This book also has a lot of physics toys and home experiments to try: 
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Martin Gardner's Science Magic: Tricks and Puzzles 

Floating Hourglass Puzzle: famous physics puzzle- why does the hourglass not start rising right away? The glass only ascends after about half of the sand has transferred to the lower bulb. The hourglass is a normal glass timer, it is submersed in plain water, and the main tube has an inner diameter which is at least 5mm larger than the diameter of the glass. A simple physics property of the hourglass changes and explains this behavior. I'll post the answer in a few days. Another puzzle made famous by Martin Gardner.


Here is an affordable version of this device: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Flow Ring 

The original version is available here: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Toroflux 

Get one and flow with it! 
From Art of Play: BUY NOW 
The Toroflux

Why does it look like a bubble when moving fast? Wikipedia has the details: when the object exceeds a certain speed the flicker fusion frequency of our vision produces the bubble illusion. 

The physics of the toroflux is wonderfully illustrated and explained in this article by Daniel Walsh. 

Toroflux: kinetic art toy made from a single continuous loop of stainless steel band. The band of spring metal is woven such that it forms a torus that can clamp on to and roll down a stick, segment of tubing, or even an arm. Amazing combination of math and kinetic art invented by Jochen Valett.

Magnetic Poles of Refrigerator Magnets

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

From Amazon: BUY NOW Magnetic Viewing Film 

Magnetic Poles of Refrigerator Magnets: visualizing the invisible with Magnaview film- the secrets of refrigerator magnets revealed. A special orientation of the magnetic poles called a Halbach array allows for a strong magnetic field on one side and a very weak one on the other- refrigerator magnets only stick on one side by design!

Jitter Gyro Ring

Available in "pro" metal version and colored rings version: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Jitter Gyro Ring 

From eBay: BUY NOW Color Jitter Gyro Ring

Jitter Gyro Ring: a 1990s skill toy craze out of New Zealand that features small rings that "roll" down a thicker steel ring and making a characteristic chattering sound as they go. Swiping the small rings gets them spinning and gives them angular momentum. Centripetal acceleration then keeps the inside of the small rings in contact with the steel ring so that they roll around as they descend (seen here in 240fps slow motion). The challenge is to rotate the large ring fast enough to keep the small rings in motion. 

Foucault Oscillator

Available from this famous science supplier in Japan: 
From Narika: Foucault Spring Pendulum 

Wikipedia has a nice description of the physics and applications of the Foucault Pendulumincluding this spring version. 

Foucault Oscillator: like a swinging pendulum, the motion of a mass on the end of a straight wire spring is constrained to a plane. The container is moved around yet the orientation of the oscillating mass points in the same direction. Similar to the physics behind the famous Foucault Pendulum that keeps its orientation as the Earth moves underneath. 

Tiny Tippe Top

Available from this shop in Germany: 
From BUY NOW Tiny Tippie-Top 

Educational Innovations has reasonably priced, regular sized, wood tippe-tops in their shop: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Tippe-Tops 

From Amazon: BUY NOW Tippe-Tops 

Tiny Tippe-Top: spinning things often have surprising physics! The smallest functioning version of the famous flip-over top I've ever seen. Friction with the mirror provides a torque that acts on the existing angular momentum of the top to flip it over. The top will stay flipped until the spin rate slows down enough to where its center of mass pulls it back to the resting position. 

Thermocromic Eclipse Postage Stamps

Available from the US Post Office and here: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Thermochromic Eclipse Stamps 

Thermocromic Eclipse Postage Stamps: In commemoration of the total solar eclipse next Monday the US Post Office has released their first ever stamp featuring thermocromic ink. Thermotropic liquid crystals go from opaque to transparent during a phase change from a crystal to liquid state. Here the warmth of the hand reveals the face of the moon in front of the solar corona. The first physics toy stamp! 


These stick man chaotic pendulums are no longer in production. However the product below is very similar and actually offers a wider range of configurations. I will post a video on this version in the future! 
From Amazon: BUY NOW 
Chaos Machine 

Pendumonium: stick man chaotic pendulum with 4 degrees of freedom. Desk toy from the 80's demonstrates chaotic motion of nonlinear systems. Note how the kinetic energy transfers from one limb to another. 

US Patriotic Radiometer

Radiometers are available from these sources: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Radiometer 

A wide variety available here, including some nice blown glass displays: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Radiometers 

Hundreds of options on eBay: 
From eBay: BUY NOW Radiometers 

US Patriotic Radiometer: 4th of July physics toy on this 242th year since the the Declaration of Independence. Produced in the 1970s by Kyp-go (maker of Balafire bulbs) the images spin with kinetic energy converted from light. Light heats up the "vanes" which then heat up the very thin gas left in the bulb- the black side of the vane is hotter and any gas molecules that come into contact with it fly off at a faster speed imparting impulse to the rotor. Radiometers with special vanes like this are no longer in production but sometimes pop up for sale online as antiques.

Diamagnetic Trap Sculpture

This particular sculpture is no longer available, however, Educational Innovations has this nice and affordable starter kit: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Diamagnetic Levitation Kit 

Dramatic diamagnetic levitation kits are available here: the racetrack magnets are a bit pricey though! 
From eBay: BUY NOW Diamagnetic Levitation Kit 

Diamagnetic Trap Sculpture: a thin disk of pyrolytic graphite hovers and spins in stable equilibrium over a bullseye configuration of magnetic poles. Diamagnetic substances become temporary magnets while immersed in an external magnetic field, and the created diamagnetic field always opposes the external field (in contrast to ferromagnetic substances like iron which attract). Graphite of this type is one of the strongest diamagnets known, and will levitate over a powerful array of neodymium magnets. ‚ú®With sincere appreciation to Tim Rowett for this kind gift. 

Plasma Globe

Plasma globes are now available in many sizes and levels of quality. Here is a source for reasonably priced quality globes: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Plasma Globe 

From Amazon: BUY NOW Plasma Globes 

Plasma Globe: low pressure noble gasses exhibit glow discharge from high voltage, creating plasma filaments that rise upward due to heating- shown here in slow motion. A small high frequency coil at center creates the high voltage potential between the center electrode and the metal coated glass globe. Current flow through the thin gas produces the colorful emission spectra from the gasses

Surf's Up!

Kyle Auga-- kinetic sculptures: 
Check out Kyle's art here: 
From Etsy: BUY NOW Kyle's Kinetics 

Surf's Up!: Another gravity defying creation by Kyle Auga, this time a well-balanced stainless steel surfer that carves waves in the air for over 10 minutes on one push! The surfer has the curious motion of a 3D physical pendulum- a complex motion which can be broken down into oscillations along two dimensions and rotation about the point of contact. The stick figure plus counterweights and bar structure is designed such that its center of mass is few centimeters below the contact point when at rest. When the sculpture is tipped the center of mass swings under the pivot point in this stable equilibrium condition- no magnets needed to create this physics magic. 

Swirl Around Top

Available on eBay (2 current to this post) 
From eBay: BUY NOW Vintage Swirl Around Top 

Fun and inexpensive magnetic tipped tops: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Magnetic-Tipped Tops 
From eBay: BUY NOW Magnetic-Tipped Top

Swirl Around Top: the magnetic tipped top stays on the perimeter of the steel plate template- but since the top has more mass than the triangular plate, the triangle moves in an interesting way. This kinetic art toy takes advantage of Newton's 3rd law and rotational kinetic energy. Produced by The Toycrafter in the 1990s these tops are out of production but can often be found on eBay. 

In-Feed Google 8

Ooze Tube

Many colors (and two sizes) to choose from: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW 
Ooze Tube 

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Ooze Tube 

The physics of the liquid rope-coil effect is pretty complex. Here is a recent scientific paper on the topic with nice illustrations. 
Journal of Fluid Mechanics: Multiple coexisting states of liquid rope coiling 

Ooze Tube: viscous polyisobutene fluid timer toy. Some interesting physics phenomena are found in this kinetic art novelty item: the "liquid rope-coil effect" where the fluid thread coils and stacks as it lands on the pooling surface, and a curious periodicity in the rate of flow that is related to the formation of non-spherical bubbles as the air and fluid trade places (shown in time-lapse). The physics of the coiling effect is complex (see the link in my blog). Broadly speaking the coiling is due to the bottom of the fluid rope widening at the contact point with the surface, and as it widens the fluid slows down but not evenly. This uneven rate of flow produces a bend and the elasticity of the stream constrains the rope to a limited radius- hence a stack of coils.