Introduction: Impossible Balancer

About: More than 14 pulsating exhibits make the Children's Museum of Houston one of the top rated in the country. Packed with daily activities and invigorating performances, it’s the place where minds come out to pl…

Make a toy that seems to defy the laws of gravity! A fun (and VERY cheap) pocket-sized toy that helps kids to explore center of mass...

This is one of the projects for our Instructables: Made In Your Mind (IMIYM) exhibition at the Children’s Museum of Houston . Produced in partnership with Instructables, IMIYM is an exhibit where families work together to build different fun, toy-like projects that help construct knowledge and skills related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while instilling a “do-it-yourself” attitude in kids so they feel empowered to explore, tinker, and try to make things themselves. To learn more, check out the article here.

This project is a Children's Museum of Houston staff original, but there may be others on Instructables that are also similar that we just didn't spot during our scan. Often, the materials and process for building our projects are designed for use with a large number of visitors (we see over 800,000 annually) and the need to ensure safety in a mostly non-facilitated environment. So, yes, many of these projects have room for improvement in both materials and methodology, which is PRECISELY what we want to encourage the kids to do. So please do share your ideas for improvement and modifications!

Step 1: What You Need:

1 – Normal craft stick - available at local craft stores
1 – Pipe cleaner - available at local craft stores
2 – 3/8” Metal washers - available at local hardware stores

We are selective in our materials for cost, ease of use, and safety due to our high traffic (800,000 visitors annually). So, for our purposes, this design worked best. But you may have other ideas - please share!

Step 2: The Video

We offer optional video segments of each step for this project in the actual exhibit. Here is a compilation of all the steps


Step 3: Adding the Pipe Cleaner

Center the pipe cleaner about 1/3 of the way down the craft stick. Wrap the left side of the pipe cleaner tightly around the craft stick one time. Repeat with the right side. Twist the two sides of the pipe cleaner together where they cross on the craft stick to hold it in place.

Step 4: Add Washers

Wrap each end of the pipe cleaner around one of the washers a few times to hold it in place.

Step 5: Adjust the Center of Mass

Bend the two ends of the pipe cleaner straight down along the shorter side of the craft stick.

Step 6: To Use

To use, place the tip of the short side on your finger and let go.

The Impossible Balancer works due to center of mass. To balance a normal stick, you need to center the stick on your finger so the mass of the stick is the same on both sides. But, by adding the washers to the stick, the center of mass of the whole balancer shifts towards the tip of the stick, which is why even though it looks like it shouldn’t balance, it does.

Try adjusting the position of the washers, use different sized sticks and fewer/more washers! Lots of chances to explore and inquire.

Pocket Sized Contest

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Pocket Sized Contest