Budget physics

Animallusions Zebra

The original DIY dragon from G4G 3: Dragon.pdf

Animallusions Zebra: an amazing version of the hollow face illusion where the zebra’s head appears animated, and gives the impression that it’s always looking in the direction of the viewer. This zebra seems inspired by the dragon illusion created for the 1998 Gathering for Gardner by the Binary Arts Corporation of Bill Ritchie et al. Some fun physics of perspective and psychophysics for your shelf.

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Floating Rings Illusion

Some assembley required and very inexpensively made- think "happy meal" type toy- available here:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Solar Powered Ring Illusion

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Floating Rings Illusion: powered by a photovoltaic (solar) cell and small motor the connected rings appear to be rolling in an improbable way. This version of this hard to find illusion is sold as an air freshener for the dashboard of your vehicle (seems a bit too distracting though)- perhaps better for a sunny window sill in the home. Fun physics and psychophysics in a very inexpensive plastic toy.

Pearlescent Metallic Lava Lamp

Get this metallic lava version here:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Metallic Lava Lamp

From explOratorium store: BUY NOW: Metallic Lava Lamp

See aslo: Magnetic Ferrofluid Lava Lamp

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The Lava Lamp: with new pearlescent metallic “lava”- kinetic art with an amazing amount of physics on display: convective heat flow, Archimedes principle, surface tension (note how the smaller blobs form into spheres), and immiscible liquids to name just some of the science behind this famous device. In this loop one can see shock waves ripple through the blobs as they detach, and as they recombine at the bottom. Manufactured by Mathmos and invented in 1963 by Edward Walker of Dorset, England. 


Sphere Sticks Geometric Puzzle

Get this affordable and amazing puzzle here:

From Etsy: BUY NOW: Sphere Sticks

Note: this site contains affiliate links for which I may be compensated

Sphere Sticks Puzzle: 30 identical wood pieces, each with two notches as shown, can create 12 interlocking pentagons in a perfect symmetry- look carefully and you can see that each rod is in an identical configuration with the 4 others that connect with it. Precision cut notches on the rods allow them to interlock with elastic tension such that vector sum of the 4 forces sum to zero in this tensegrity type equilibrium. The dodecahedron, with its 30 edges and 12 sides, is the basis of this puzzle sculpture. 

 

Scale Solar System Sticker Set

Get this fantastic set here:
From TheCuriosityBox: BUY NOW: Scale Solar System

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This set came in my Curiosity Box subscrition. A great way to start collecting your own physics toys (and other brain food):
From the Vsauce team: BUY NOW: The Curiosity Box

Scale Solar System Sticker Set: one of the most amazing facts about the planets in our solar system is their relative sizes. Finally! a set of stickers- made to scale- using images from NASA, brought to you by the Vsauce team @thecuriositybox. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and dwarf planet Pluto included for comparison- all in their current order (sometimes Pluto is closer than Neptune), and mounted here on a sheet of polycarbonate.

Magnetic Suspsension Sculpture

This DIY magneits sculpture can be assemebled with these parts.  Bring a magnet into a craft shop to find some necklace chain that is non-magnetic. 
From Amazon/eBay: BUY NOW: Quilting HoopNeodyumium Sphere Magnets

Magnetic Flux Gyroscope art and other amazing science inspired jewelry available here:
From Foxtail Jewelry: BUY NOW: Kinetic Magnetic Pendants
From Foxtail Jewelry: BUY NOW: Tabletop Magnetic Kinetic Art

Note: this site contains affiliate links for which I may be compensated

Magnetic Suspension Sculpture: two neodymium magnets on chains suspended by their mutual magnetic attraction in this prototype kinetic sculpture (swipe to see scaled fine jewelry version by foxtailjewelry). These powerful magnets hold the chains taut with about a 2cm gap. Made from a quilting hoop where the magnets connect under their own force to steel nails soldered on to non-magnetic chain.


Light Pipe Sculpture

Get an affordable pre-bent light pipe demo here:
From Amazon: BUY NOW: Light Pipe Demo

Make your own abstract light pipe sculpture, an inexpesive heat gun is the only needed tool:
Tool from Amazon: BUY NOW: Heat Gun

Light Pipe Sculpture: internal reflection constrains most of the laser light to propagate along the bent acrylic rod- the physics of fiber optics. This abstract sculpture was created by applying a heat gun to a 3/8” diameter acrylic rod. The laser pointer used here is blue at a wavelength of 445nm.

Tensegrity for the Desk

Get similar tensegrity sculptures here:

From Etsy: BUY NOW: Tensegrity Sculpture

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Tensegrity for the Desk: an elegant, and stackable, desk toy version of this popular tensegrity configuration by maker/designer Micah Murdoch. Constructed from poplar wood, the design assembles easily with clever ball and socket connectors at the ends of the nylon support lines (3 long, 1 short). Stacking them seems to only increase the illusion of floating with the subtle way these structures defy gravity. Another fun configuration of tensegrity concept, invented by Kenneth Snelson and made famous by the architect Buckminster Fuller in 1949.

Glow Trace Chaotic Pendulum Kit

This kit (usually part of a subscription) often available here:
Get amazing quatilty science kits delievered to your home- this glow pendulum is part of the Tinker Crate subscription. 
From KiwiCo: LEARN MORE: Tinker Crate Subscription

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Glow Trace Chaotic Pendulum: this fun and amazing DIY kit features a UV diode to trace the intricate path of this double pendulum system on to a phosphorescent screen, revealing the physics of chaotic motion. It’s amazing that such complex motion can arise from a simple assembly of two pendulums, one attached to the end of the other. Chaotic motion, such as that observed here, is characterized by extreme sensitivity to initial starting conditions, tiny differences in how the system is released leads to dramatically different outcomes each time. 

 


Electric Motor/Generator

Amazingly this motor is available for less than $10 US. 

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Brushless Motor/Generator with LED

Note: this site contains affiliate links for which I may be compensated

Electric Motor/Generator: this inexpensive and common motor can also serve as a generator of AC electricity- here lightning an LED when the shaft of the rotor is spun by hand. Most electrical energy we use today is produced by moving a magnet near a coil of wire (known as Faraday’s law of induction) to produce an electric current. Removing the permanent magnet casing reveals this design to use 9 separate copper windings. I made a transparent second rotor with six neodymium magnets- and when these magnets are made to move near the windings the LED again lights with the flow of current. 

Mini-Drinking Bird Heat Engine

Small and large drinking birds available here:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Mini-Drinking Bird Heat Engine

See more drinking birds in my collection

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Mini-Drinking Bird Heat Engine: this hummingbird sized heat engine is the latest species added to my drinking bird collection. This little guy comes with the traditional top hat and his own plastic goblet- which is the perfect height for a standard drinking bird to share. Cooling by evaporation at the head leads to lower pressure in the top bulb, the pressure in the bottom bulb pushes the dichloromethane fluid 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 process repeats, and as long as the top stays wet and cooler than the bottom this heat engine will continue to cycle.

Drinking Bird Engine Experiment

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

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Wikipedia has wonderful details about the rich history (and further descriptions of the operational principals) of the Drinking Bird

Drinking Bird Engine Experiment: what happens if you feed a drinking bird alcohol? This experiment compares the drinking rate (time per one full engine cycle) of two identical bird devices- but the glass on the left is filled with 70% isopropyl alcohol whereas the glass on the right contains tap water. After wetting the tops of both birds we count how many times each one “takes a drink” over a 5 minute duration (shown at x6 speed). This classic physics toy is a functional heat engine where cooling by evaporation at the head/beak provides the operating temperature difference. Isopropyl alcohol has a more rapid evaporation rate than water for room temperature and low humidity- so which bird will win? 


Lissajous Roller 

Available from Pyrigan & Co.

From Etsy: BUY NOW: Lissajous Roller Illusion

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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. 

LASER Pointers + Diffraction Grating

Need a laser pointer? Incredibly, you can get 3 (one of each color) for under $20 (including S&H): 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Red+Green+Purple Laser Pointer

Rainbow Symphony has a nice selection of diffraction gratings and sun catchers:
From Amazon: BUY NOW: Diffraction Grating Toys

Note: this site contains affiliate links for which I may be compensated

LASER Pointers + Diffraction Grating: three frequencies of laser pointer- Red (635 nm), Green (532 nm), and Blue (450 nm). Note that the distance between the intensity maxima (bright spots) is greatest for the red (long wavelength) and closest for blue (shortest wavelength) with the green in between. The diffraction grating is the same form as one of those rainbow fireworks glasses- this one from has 13500 lines per inch. 

Cartesian Diver

Glass divers available here: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Glass Divers or this complete set Cartesian Diver Kit

Inexpensive and fun diver kits to make in a bottle available here: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Cartesian Diver Kits 

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Cartesian Divers: increasing pressure on the water compresses the air bubbles in the small glass vials filling them further with water making them sink. Pascal's principle states that any change in pressure on an enclosed fluid (such as pushing on the rubber cover) is transmitted evenly to every part of the fluid- the physics of hydraulic brakes! Named after the physicist and philosopher Rene Descartes.


WindGyro

Get one here!

From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW: WindGyro

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WindGyro: Spin this top up with a puff of air! Small magnets keep the top secured to the base so that a stream of air will induce rotation as the air flows through the engineered turbine blades of the elegant spiral structure. 

The Physics of Tippe-Top Inversion

Get a nice tippe-top from this fine source: 

From Etsy: BUY NOW Flip Over Tops


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Physics of Tippe-Top Inversion: spinning things often have surprising physics! In brief: friction with the surface 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. Inversion phase shown at 240fps- note the little hop the top takes as it goes on to its stem! 

Mini-Lollipopter

Available here:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Lollipopter Kinetics

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Mini-Lollipopter: new smaller cousin of one of my favorite interactive kinetic sculpture designs. A snap of the wrist imparts angular momentum to the "petals" which then rotate until an internal mechanism stops their motion with predetermined spacing- clockwise rotation transforms a helix to an abstract pine cone, counterclockwise returns the helix. Created by @john.edmark.