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fidget spinner experiment video

Fidget Spinner Gyro

How does spinning change the way something moves?

Key Concepts

  • force icon
    Force

     

  • motion icon
    Motion

     


  • Introduction

    Fidget spinners are everywhere you look these days. They were popularized as something to do with your hands while you pay attention to important things, but have become popular as a toy for all ages and skill levels. While your teacher might not love when you have one in class, the physics behind the phenomenon are truly head-spinning!

  • Background

    Fidget spinners work due to their unique design: three weights spin in unison around a central bearing. The rapid movement of the weights combined with gravitational forces create the sensation of weight when manipulating the spinning toy. Today we are going to examine some of the fascinating science behind fidget spinners. Sure, they spin, but why do they spin so smoothly, and for so long? Why is it difficult to flip one over mid-spin? Let’s try to answer these questions with an experiment.

  • Preparation

    • Tie a loop in one end of the string.
    • Tape the other end of the string to a shelf or table, so the loop is dangling free.
    • Put the pencil or chopstick through the middle hole of the fidget spinner so there is only about 1 inch from the fidget spinner to the end of the pencil or chopstick.
  • Procedure

    1. Make a prediction. What will happen when the pencil is only supported by the string on one side?
    2. Spin the fidget spinner so it is going fast.
    3. Put the short end of the pencil or chopstick into the loop of string, being careful not to tangle the string in the fidget spinner.
    4. Let the pencil or chopstick go and see what happens. 
       
  • Observation and Results

    The pencil should stay balanced parallel to the ground and spin around in a circle. If that doesn’t happen, try spinning the fidget spinner the opposite direction and try again. This happens because of the way that a spinning object changes the way that forces act on it. This is called gyroscopic precession and happens when a spinning object is suspended on an axle. The torque or rotational force of the fidget spinner is pushing outward from the axle, in this case a pencil or chopstick, which allows it to stay suspended and turn slowly in a circle. Gyroscopic precession is what allows a bike to stay upright while it’s moving, and why you have to put your foot down to balance when you stop.

  • Clean Up

    Be sure to clean up when you are all done. Throw the tape away and put the other materials back where you found them.

  • More to Explore

    The way fidget spinners are built makes them great for this experiment, but that doesn't mean they are our only option.  For example, bikes were mentioned, and if you have a bike wheel available, maybe you could find a way to set this up with a string or rope and a bike wheel in a garage or outside.  What else can you find that you could easily spin on some kind of axle like a pencil, a chopstick, or a stick?

    We suggested about an inch between the fidget spinner and the string, but what happens if you use more or less distance?  If you find some distances that don't work, can you figure out or research why they don't?  If you're spinning other objects, what distances work for those specific objects, and why might they be different than, or the same as the distance for a fidget spinner?

    Lastly, what happens if the string is moving?  Does it change the behavior of the spinning object?  Does the way the string is moving make a difference? Remember to be aware of where you’re doing the experiment and what’s around you!
     


  • Safety First & Adult Supervision

    • Follow the experiment’s instructions carefully.
    • A responsible adult should assist with each experiment.
    • While science experiments at home are exciting ways to learn about science hands-on, please note that some may require participants to take extra safety precautions and/or make a mess.
    • Adults should handle or assist with potentially harmful materials or sharp objects.
    • Adult should review each experiment and determine what the appropriate age is for the student’s participation in each activity before conducting any experiment.
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