spinning and balancing

gyroscopes

This is one of my favorite photos, taken a few years ago during Science in the Parks, even though there’s nothing especially fancy about what’s captured here. It’s just a bunch of spinning gyroscopes, an outreached hand to grab one of them. Maybe we take it for granted that these spinning objects seem to defy gravity and balance on their tips only when they’re spinning. Lots of objects do this, like tops, dancers, and bicycles; and many objects increase their stability by spinning while in flight, like frisbees, high divers, and some rockets.

You could study a lot of physics to try to make sense of why this is. (Some of us spend entire careers trying to find ways to explain this.) But the absolute best way to begin to understand it is to play with a top or gyroscope or some similar spinning object. In the parks, we make good use of these. Simply holding a gyroscope, getting it to balance, and feeling its “fight” against you when you try to move it around is something that you could spend an hour or a lifetime playing around with.

Our staff have been playing with gyroscopes as they’ve been unpacking supplies. Here’s some clips and some encouragement to try some of these things yourself.

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