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Bill Nye Demonstation:  Newton's Pendulum

Bill Nye Demonstation: Newton's Pendulum

Author: Bill Nye

Although Isaac Newton did not invent Newton's Cradle, it so simply and elegantly demonstrates some of the basic laws of motion he helped describe that it makes sense it's named after him. So, what does it do?

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Newton's Pendulum

You probably have seen this apparatus before. But do you know what you're seeing? Let's have a look...

How Does it Work?

This is a Newton's cradle, also called a Newton's rocker or a ball clicker. It was so-named in 1967 by English actor Simon Prebble, in honor of his countryman and revolutionary physicist Isaac Newton.

Despite its seemingly simple design, the Newton's cradle and its swinging, clicking balls isn't just an ordinary desk toy. It is, in fact, an elegant demonstration of some of the most fundamental laws of physics and mechanics.

The toy illustrates the three main physics principles at work

  • conservation of energy
  • conservation of momentum
  • friction

Try pulling one ball away from the others and releasing it, the ball will swing and strike the second ball, which in turns sends the momentum through the series of balls causing the last ball to move away from the group. When the last ball swings back, its collision then causes the first ball to move away. This process repeats until it finally wears down. Pulling away several balls will result in the same number of balls moving away at the other end.

Newton's Pendulum - AKA: Newton's Cradle

The physics toy and demo sold as "Newton's cradle" is also called "colliding balls", "Newton's spheres", "counting balls", "impact balls", "ball-chain", the "executive pacifier", and even, believe it or not, "Newton's balls."  (Donald Simanek)

Try This!

Here is an activity using the Newton's Cradle with students.

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Don't have this device???

So, you love this idea but don't want to make or buy Newton's Cradle? There's still a solution. Check out my quick and easy activity called Marble Madness. Same concepts using a wooden ruler and marbles. Just like the engineers with the Apollo 13 mission, necessity is the mother of invention!

Learn More!!

Check out more explanations and extensions!

What Else is There?

If you're interested in watching more of my demonstrations, checkout my playlist,

Your Turn!

Have cool science demonstrations you show your classes regularly? Save time and materials by making a quick video tutorial of your own for students. By using demonstrations and lab investigations regularly, students not only will know science, they can apply it!

Check out some resources on doing it yourself: