Experiments with KVRR Meteorologist Scott Sincoff: Newton’s Fountain

Fun and Easy Science Experiments

Meteorologist Scott Sincoff and Dr. Graeme Wyllie of Concordia Science Academy did a cool science experiment that you can do with any strings of beads you may have lying around.

The first thing to do is cut several of the bead necklaces to form single lengths which you can then twist together to make one long strand. These should then be fed into a cup in a smooth fashion making sure to avoid twists or knots. Make sure one end is on the top but don’t let it hang over the edge or the science will start before you’re ready.

The challenge is then can we get all of the beads out of the cup at once without moving or tilting the cup. We’re going to do that by showcasing something known as Newton’s Fountain named after the scientist, Sir Isaac Newton. To do this,  find the end of the string of beads from near the top of the cup. Hold the cup steady, take the end of the beads and hold it high. What we’re going to do is take the end of the beads and throw it in the air outwards from the cup and let it go. See if you can get all of the beads out at once. The higher you do it, the more it’s going to jump.

The Newton’s Fountain may look like a very simple experiment, but it’s been the focus of a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. That’s because while Newton’s fountain looks simple, there’s actually a range of different forces all acting on the beads to make them move. As we lift it up the cup, we introduce potential energy and letting the beads go unleashes this. In addition, inertia which states that a body in motion continues in motion unless acted on causes the the beads to follow the other beads ahead of them pulling the chain out of the cup. There are also forces pulling the beads out of the cup and then there’s the force of gravity pulling the beads toward the ground. So what might look like a simple process actually becomes very complex when you try to break it down but that should not stop you having fun with this at home.

Other experiments:

  • Why not attach a ruler to the wall and hold the cup up while you are running it to measure how high the beads rise out of the cup? Several factors affect this and you may find the further up you hold it, the higher it jumps. That’s because we are adding more potential energy and there is more distance for the force to pull it down to the ground.
  • Why not try different types of container and see how that affects your experiment? There’s a very obvious change in the sound depending on the type of container (plastic or glass)
  • Does attaching something heavy to the end make a difference in height or how fast your fountain goes? Why do you think that is?
  • If you’ve got someone to help you why not film your Newton’s fountain in action.
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