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Time to take science out for a spin! If you're feeling like a flinging, or a little centripetal, these quick toys are for you. Easy and cheap, they demonstrate all sorts of concepts surrounding centripetal forces, inertia, rotation, and Newton's Laws. We use them with students, and they're great for teaching science or pure giggle manufacturing.

  • What: Spinning Toys!
  • Concepts: centripetal force, inertia, Newton's Laws
  • Time: ~ 3 minutes per toy to make, as much time as you want to play and modify
  • Materials: (given by project)
    • Straw Orbiter: 2 bendy straws
    • Finger Flinger: 1 wood skewer, 1 cork, tape
    • Balloon Whirlie: 1 bendy straw, 1 balloon, tape
    • Balloon Buzzer: 1 balloon, hex nuts
    • Straw Sprinkler: 1 skewer, 1 fat straw, tape, water

Many of these are derived from work with Arvind Gupta, who does incredible things.

Let's spin!

Step 1: Straw Orbiter

A lung-powered party starter! Start with two bendy straws, and pinch the end of one so you can slide it in the other. Point one end at your mouth, and the other end to the right or left, so the two are perpendicular. When you blow, it will begin to spin!

See what happens if you change the direction of the straw end that you're not blowing through!

Step 2: Finger Flinger

Like when water stays in a bucket when spun over your head, this finger flinger is an amazing small toy in centripetal force and inertia.

Start with a wood skewer, and break it in two. Make an X and tape it in position. Stick the pointy end into a cork, and start spinning. It takes a second to get, but once you're spinning, there's no stopping you.

See what happens when you change the different wood lengths or change the weight!

Step 3: Balloon Whirlie

Like the lung-powered straw orbiter but with a balloon time delay.

Cut an elbow from a bendy straw, insert it in the balloon, and tape it! Inflate the balloon via the straw, bend it to the side, and let is spin!

See what happens if you cut a longer piece of straw or change the angle of the bendy straw as the air comes out.

Step 4: Balloon Buzzer

The fastest way to a parent's nerves. I mean heart. This balloon buzzer is the same science going on behind motorcycles in a spherical cage (AWESOME) and is also a great lesson in sound.

Put a hex nut into a balloon, inflate, and start spinning. You'll find with just a little motion you can keep it going fast. Be careful to not do this with children too young as there are choking hazards when inflating.

Try different speeds, angles, multiple hex nuts at a time, and different sizes to see what happens to the sound and speed.

Step 5: Straw Sprinkler

My all-time favorite centripetal toy! Feel the sprinkle!

Grab a fat straw, and fold it at both ends. Cut a small triangle off of the folded parts of each, and when you unfold it, those triangles will turn to diamonds. Stick a wood skewer in the middle of it, and bend the legs down to the base. Tape it up to keep them in place, but not covering the ends. Place the lower ends in water and take it for a spin!

With this one, you may have to practice cutting triangles a couple times before it works, and make sure to get the lower ends pointing down into the water. Experiment with different size diamonds, lengths of straw, and even different liquids!

Step 6: Enjoy!

Hope you enjoyed making and modifying these five spinning toys! This is one of my favorite ways to introduce students to balance and motion, but they can be so much more. Show us what you make below, and as always, keep exploring. :)

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Bio: The Oakland Toy Lab is a community-based wonder lab for students to build, tinker, explore, make, break, and learn! We are writing up engaging science ... More »
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