Mini Foucault's Pendulum
The 'Mini Foucault's Pendulum' provides a science, history, sensory and art experience all in one. The Mini Foucault's Pendulum consists of a base (with sand), stand and dangling pendulum. The stand measures 38cm tall so it is the perfect size for a home or classroom.
Before you read the rest of this description please take 30 seconds (well, 28 seconds to be precise!) to go watch this video of the Mini Foucault's Pendulum in motion!
Please note: it is not as accurate/precise as a full-size, functional Foucault's Pendulum.
The Foucault's Pendulum is named for its inventor Leon Foucault, a French physicist. He publicly introduced the mechanism in 1851 at the Paris Observatory as a method of demonstrating the rotation of the Earth. Foucault was an example of an enlightened mind who sought to share his knowledge with the general public through meaningful, tangible experiences. Primary school children might enjoy learning more about the life and discoveries of Leon Foucalt. Researching this great thinker might also inspire a child to learn more about other scientists and inventors.
After observing the Pendulum a child might like to further investigate why and how the mechanism works. The full details are a little too complicated to explain in this listing but you might like to do some reading here, here or here. Essentially, a full-size functional Foucault's Pendulum is meant to demonstrate that "the pendulum swings in a fixed plane, and the Earth rotates beneath it" (read more here).
Building a precise Foucault's Pendulum can be a little tricky but a child might be inspired to just build their own pendulum and observe the patterns and movements it creates. There are many ways to create a pendulum and part of the fun will be a child gathering materials and experimenting with methods to create their own swinging science!
There are many other marvellous mechanisms that demonstrate physical examples of natural phenomena. A child might like to research various other inventions - or come up with their own - to demonstrate elements of our world.
An example of the pattern drawn in the sand by the pendulum.
Observing the Pendulum in motion can offer an almost meditative experience to the observer. The smooth, rhythmic movements of the pendulum have an almost hypnotic quality. Watching the patterns appear in the sand evokes the atmosphere of a carefully raked Zen garden. It could therefore be utilised as a calming, sensory experience for children. Perhaps it could form part of a 'relaxation area' where children can relax and recharge (either at home or in the classroom).
In my own Montessori classroom I have arranged experiences where the Pendulum is on display with a sand tray beside it (I have also used fine polenta in place of sand). As the child watches the Pendulum swing he or she traces a finger through the sand/polenta, trying to follow along with the movements. This collaboration of eyes and hand seems to create a wonderfully soothing, meditative experience.
The Pendulum can act as the foundation for interesting art experiences. It is such a great example of the beauty of naturally occurring patterns. It can provide inspiration in many different ways, but here are a few I've tried myself:
-Recreate the pattern
As the child watches the Foucault's Pendulum he or she can hold a pencil lightly on some paper and attempt to follow the motions of the pendulum with his/her hand. After a few minutes of this the child can compare the drawn pattern to the image in the sand.
-Set up a 'Paint Pendulum'.
Attach a piece of string to a frame or fixed spot. On the end of the string attach a weight (such as a large marble). Ensure that the end of the marble can just lightly graze along a table/surface so that a piece of paper can be placed beneath it. Dip the marble into some paint and then gently start the pendulum swinging so its paints a pattern across the paper. As the paint runs out dip the marble into another colour and start the swing again. Repeat a few times to create some different colours and patterns.
Experiences outside of the classroom:
The Mini Foucault's Pendulum is ideal for introducing the concept, but it might then be interesting to take this further by taking your child (or class) to see a larger Foucault's Pendulum. There is something incredibly striking about watching a gigantic pendulum in motion - just as the observers of the original Foucault's Pendulum experienced!
The following locations have hosted large Foucault's Pendulums in Australia - but please contact the individual institution before visiting to ensure that the Pendulum is still present and accessible to the public!
- School of Physics, University of New South Wales
- Questacon National Science Exhibition, Canberra
- Gravity Discovery Centre, Gingin, Western Australia
- School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne
- School of Mathematics, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria
- School of Physics, Bragg Building, University of Adelaide, North Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia.
- Queensland Museum Sciencentre, Brisbane
- School of Earth Sciences, University of Tasmania, Hobart.
Please note: The Mini Foucault's Pendulum is recommended for ages 8+. I have used it successfully in my Pre-school (with adult guidance and supervision) but please take note of the recommended age when deciding if this is right for your child, family or classroom!