Introduction: The Chaos Machine (Double Pendulum)

About: I have B.S. degrees in both Physics and Electrical Engineering. I do Lecture Demonstrations for the University of Washington Department of Physics. I don't check my messages here so please email me directly …

Every physics department needs a double pendulum, so here's how I built ours. The big improvement is that the bottom pendulum can be locked in place. This turns the chaotic double pendulum into a non-chaotic physical pendulum.

I'm going to be lazy and skip writing a big long introduction or explanation for this. The Wikipedia article on chaos thoery is pretty good and explains how chaotic systems are sensitive to initial conditions. The mathematics are too complex to accurately reproduce here, but the links below can show them correctly: (simulation) (simple explanation of chaos theory)

Here's a neat version made from two square plates:

You can buy a double pendulum from, but it's more fun to build your own. Look at the pictures, look at the CAD files, watch the video, and then go make one.

Support for sponsoring this science fair contest, buy ball bearings online.


Standard shop and power tool warnings apply, but I have to provide a warning specific to the double pendulum. The bottom pendulum can get moving very fast and because it's chaotic, it's unpredictable. If your hand or face is in the wrong place and the wrong time, you can get seriously hurt. The best thing to do is to set it in motion and then stay out of the plane of rotation.

I fixed the video! Sorry about that. It's viewable in step 10.

Step 1: Top Pendulum - Front

This aluminum bar is half of the top pendulum. Another similar bar forms the second half. The ball bearings are 3/8" ID x 7/8" OD x 7/32" wide (McMaster-Carr P/N 60355K14) and are held in place by a #8-32 set screw. There are four bottom tapped #8-32 holes for the screws that hold the top pendulum together. There's one more #8-32 through hole for the bottom pendulum pivot. Finally, there's a 0.311" hole for the socket head shoulder bolt.

Step 2: Top Pendulum - Back

Step 3: Spacing Block

Step 4: Top Pendulum Assembly

Step 5: Bottom Pendulum

Step 6: Bottom Pendulum Pivot

This is the pivot for the bottom pendulum. The length is the same as the width of the top pendulum spacing block.

Step 7: Bottom Pendulum Assembly

Step 8: Complete Double Pendulum Assembly

Step 9: CAD Files

Download an AutoCAD .dwg and/or an Alibre Design Xpress assmebly.

Step 10: Video.