Check Out These Swinging Balls of Steel

If you have friends who actually believe National Science Foundation money is going to waste, show them this: an expansion of the usual 5-ball desktop oscillation toy. Good stuff. I’m hoping Rhett Allain will step in and explain the physics.

From a neuro perpsective, this makes me think of Gyorgy Buzsaki’s wonderful book Rhythms of the Brain, which explores how oscillatory patterns in different brain regions synchronize to pass messages and Get Things Done. The first ten pages of that book are mind-blowing; enormous explanatory power and imagination. Buzsaki explains in a video available at Meanwhile, the pendulum above  can serve as a very rough analog in the way different groups of balls swing together at different times. Plus it’s just pretty.

Here are the notes from the YouTube site:

Fifteen uncoupled simple pendulums of monotonically increasing lengths dance together to produce visual traveling waves, standing waves, beating, and (seemingly) random motion.

For more details see…

The period of one complete cycle of the dance is 60 seconds. The length of the longest pendulum has been adjusted so that it executes 51 oscillations in this 60 second period. The length of each successive shorter pendulum is carefully adjusted so that it executes one additional oscillation in this period. Thus, the 15th pendulum (shortest) undergoes 65 oscillations.

Our apparatus was built from a design published by Richard Berg [Am J Phys 59(2), 186-187 (1991)] at the University of Maryland. The particular apparatus shown here was built by our own Nils Sorensen.

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Video courtesy of Harvard Natural Sciences Lecture Demonstrations, © 2010 President and Fellows of Harvard College

Hat tip to James Colwell, Brigadier General, USAF Reserve, Retired.

Related posts:

The Consciousness Meter: Sure You Want That? (see bottom)

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