Adventures in Science

Posts tagged ‘physics’

Weird and Wonderful Gyroscopes

Have you ever played with a gyroscope? They’re pretty fascinating little gadgets. Gyroscopes can do things that we don’t see in any other objects. Here’s a video showing some kids doing tricks with their gyroscope. See if you can spot what it is that seems so strange about gyroscopes.

Chillaxed? Me too. Loved that swanky bossa nova music.

What does a gyroscope do that a regular toy top can’t? Did you see the gyroscope defying gravity by floating in mid air horizontally as it spun on a base? That’s what makes a gyroscope so special.  This gravity defying effect is called precession.  Here is a video by YouTuber, adambarito. It is also especially soothing and features some splendid sideburns and snarky ‘tude:

(He’s a growing boy. Very hungry.)

You will see a lot of bicycle wheels during demonstrations of gyroscopic effects. Surprisingly, the gyroscopic effect is not the reason that we are able to stay upright on our bikes when we ride them. Dr. Hugh Hunt has a web page describing his experiment to find out if the gyroscopic effect is responsible for keeping bikes upright. Go check it out.

This positively soporific video introduces you to some of the physics involved in the otherwise unusual behavior of the gyroscope.

As you saw there gyroscopes are often used in aviation for stability.

Helicopters, unlike bicycles, are heavily influenced by the gyroscopic effect. Helicopters have huge gyroscopes in the form of their rotors spinning on them and must account for the gyroscopic effect when maneuvering. Smarter Every Day has this awesome video explaining why navigating helicopters can be so tricky.  As you will see, the gyroscopic effect doesn’t always make intuitive sense.

I’m awake and 90 degrees out of phase now! It was great the way they got their bike wheel up to speed by holding it up to the back wheel of their bike as they cranked the pedal.

Finally, if it is extreme, cutting-edge gyroscoping you crave to get you going and alert, program and sync up your flying gyroscopes like the folks from University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP lab:


Cary Huang’s enhanced Scale of the Universe…

Original Scale of the Universe


….is a parody and I was fooled and originally had a serious post on it. I should have known better than to post anything from a 4Chan link.

Cary Huang created an updated version and parody of the interactive “Scale of the Universe” flash animation.

More at

Pwned….by science!

Image: My L'il Pwny by KeyzerSoze on DeviantArt

A couple of weeks ago 18-y.o. Stephen Thomas uploaded a video of his high school physics presentation to YouTube and it went viral. He’s taken his favorite show, My Little Pony, and with his knowledge of physics determined whether some of the ponies’ adventures and misadventures were possible. He did a pretty good job.

Even though Stephen Thomas debunked the Sonic Rainboom *whimper*, One Giant Leap of Awesome names him an

Exploring Magnetic Fields

At there is a great explanation of magnetism and magnetic fields for kids by Chris Woodford. If you read that first you will get more out of this post. At the bottom of this post I’ve included a link to a more advanced video on magnetic fields from for those who want a more detailed explanation.

Now let’s play…

Let’s explore the magnetic field or region of space around magnets in which the magnetic force occurs to get some insight into what it is like and how it works. Most of the time magnetic fields are invisible to our eyes. The demonstrations in the following videos help us to see the lines and curves of force of magnetic fields around different types of magnets.

First is this video from funlearners channel on YouTube:

Here we can see some slices through the magnetic field with all of the little compass pointers on the plexiglass lining up. Plus we can see that the magnetic field changes shape with the two differently shaped magnets. You really get a sense of the 3-D shape of the field when the bar magnet is in the middle and the man spins the viewer.

Here is a 3-D magnetic field viewer by wbeaty that you can make yourself:

Easy peasy! Try not to touch the steel wool slivers that you cut off too much. Instead of picking them up with your fingers just cut them over a sheet paper and then pour them into the bottle down the crease of the paper folded in two. Also, rinse your fingers after working with the steel wool to avoid nasty metal slivers in your skin or eyes.

Experiment with your 3-D magnetic field viewer using one, two or more magnets. Try different shapes and types of magnets to see if and how the fields differ. Carry your viewer around the house and see if you can spot a hidden magnetic field. Then try to figure out what is causing it.

This video from KJMagneticsProducts is what happens when you stick a powerful magnet into magnetic paint:

That magnet is going to be hard to get clean again. That paint is wet, but the particles of iron pile up on each other in the shape of the lines and curves of the magnetic field until it looks solid. There are many videos on the internet showing ferrofluids, which are liquids that become strongly magnetized by a magnetic field. Ferrofluids display the beautiful geometries and movement of magnetic fields. We will revisit ferrofluids in a future post on OGLoA. Until then, go look them up. You won’t be sorry!

For the older kids, if you have an old-style computer monitor just lying around, research how it can be made into a magnetic field viewer. Get permission from your parents first!  Here is a great one featured in this video by YoungTesla:

Move over LavaLite, we’re going to make one for parties! YoungTesla has three magnet/computer monitor experiments on his YouTube channel and lots more. Check it out.

As promised here is more on magnets and magnetic fields from

Introduction to Magnetism

Khan Academy is a wonderful web site for self-study or to use as another source of information when you are stuck on a topic in your school work.

What is electricity? (pt. 1)

"Night Carnival" (c) 2001 Bob Crosby

Even though we have been using electricity to power our gadgets, tools, and lights for over 100 years it still seems like magic. Why is that? Maybe because in our everyday lives, when electricity is being used correctly, we can’t feel it, see it, or hear it until it causes something to happen, like the toaster to heat up, the light to turn on, or the iPod to play a great song. Fortunately, just because we can’t always experience something first hand, does not mean it doesn’t exist and cannot be explained.
This will be a very basic explanation of electricity for beginners. One Giant Leap of Awesome will do another more advanced explanation of electricity in another entry.

Let’s begin!  

First of all, you need to know that the tiniest pieces of matter– the stuff that everything is made of–are called atoms. All of the matter in the universe is made up of over 100 different types of atoms.

Below, is a drawing of an atom.  Atoms are round like a dandelion puffball. They are made of two main parts. The first part is the central area called the nucleus. In the drawing below it is the small, darker grey area in the middle.  The part of the atom that causes electricity is found in the blue, fuzzy outer part in the drawing. That part is fuzzy because that is where the electrons live in the atom.

This picture is a drawing because atoms are so small we can’t see them and they are too small to get a good picture of them. 

If you visit the “Scale of the Universe” site and move the slider to the left (smaller-than-human-size direction) you will find the size of atoms and electrons between the “•v” and the drawing of a dot with ovals around it which is a cartoon atom.

Electrons are jumpy and hyper. They like to MOVE. If we had cameras small enough to take pictures of them they would still look blurry because they never sit still.

Electrons don’t just stay put on one atom either. They love to piggyback and hopscotch onto other atoms and, given the chance, they will stampede from atom to atom.  When they stampede from atom to atom we get electricity.

 Also, they are super fast! To give you an idea how fast, a flash of lightning is a GIANT electron stampede!  The entire stampede takes a split second. In that small length of time, sickzillions of electrons stream through the sky in a jagged line.

I have a confession. Sickzillions is not a real word for a huge number.* I made it up because this is just how many electrons we are talking about:


That is also known as 1.56 x 10^20 which is pronounced: one point five six times ten to the 20th power.


Electrons to the power of SICK!


The amazing thing about jumpy and unruly electrons is that we have learned to control and use them. When a stampede of electrons goes in one direction–like how the water in a river flows from high to low—they make an electric current which we can direct and tap into to work for us.  It is a bit like how people in the past learned to use the power of a river’s current to turn a paddle wheel for their grain mill. 

 One of the ways we control electricity is by using special pathways for electrons to travel through. People figured out that electrons prefer to stampede through special types of elements that became known as conductors. For example, we use copper to make pathways of electrical wiring to direct currents of electrons to power our machines.  Most of the electrical wires in our machines have copper cores.  Some other elements that electrons like to flow through are silicon, silver, lead, gold, platinum, and mercury.

Okay. So now you know that electricity is caused by tiny parts of atoms called electrons that like to hop from atom to atom and often flow together in a current. Part 2 of “What is electricity?” will explain what causes the jumpy and hyperfast electrons to stampede.

*I think that number above would officially be in the hexillions.

How big or how small do things get?

If you want to be amazed by how big or how small things get compared to us click this link here:

What a fun little gizmo! That button in the middle slides to the right for things bigger than humans and to the left for things smaller than humans. Human size is just a little larger than median size for everything there is. The word median here means the middle of a range of numbers or values.  So humans are about middle size for everything anywhere that we know about at this time.

We’re used to measuring things with words like inch or mile. Every inch, mile, or, in this case, meter has the same length. We call these words for same lengths–units or units of measurement. In this web page, we are shown many new words for measuring something’s size  based on equal fractions or multiples of the meter, the regular metric unit of measurement. Planck length at the small end of the slider is the smallest unit of size for anything.  “Scale of the Universe”  is using the Yottameter or Ym, as  the largest unit used to measure anything  in the universe and the universe itself.

Mind blowingly cool, isn’t it?

Look for the label, You can’t see past this line—>, and read the explanation of why to the right of it!