The magic of Newton's beads

Physics is the science that deals with explaining the functioning of everything that surrounds us, from the movement of cars on the road to the movement of the planets around the Sun. Although it may seem like a complicated science, many of its principles can be observed daily.

One of the most famous physicists of all time was the Englishman Isaac Newton. He is best known for his discovery of the force of gravity; however, he also studied many other concepts. To learn about some of them, you can do easy experiments like the one we bring you next.

You will need:

  • A garland of plastic beads (like the ones on the Christmas tree)
  • An open container

Instructions:

  1. Place one end of the garland in the bottom of the container. Layer the rest in circular layers, one on top of the other. Be careful not to tangle the beads.
  2. Hold the container up with one hand and use the other hand to quickly pull the end of the garland from the top. The goal is for the beads to climb up the side of the container and start falling.
  3. Look at the result. Did you expect the accounts to behave like this?

One would think that the garland would most likely stop when you stop pulling on it; however, that is not what happens. This result is due to a property called inertia, which all objects possess. Inertia means that an object at rest won't move unless pushed or pulled by a force, while an object in motion will keep moving unless stopped by some force.

Give the garland a little tug and the beads all fall to the ground. On the other hand, you must have noticed that they seem to defy gravity before falling. This upward arc is caused by the interaction between the force of gravity and inertia. However, gravity ultimately wins out.

Inertia is the explanation why astronauts can float a long way through space with just a little push, since there is no force to stop them. It's also the reason why, when the car makes a sharp turn, you feel like you're being pushed to the other side. The push is because even though the car is turning, your body is trying to keep moving in a straight line.

Dozens of examples of inertia can be observed every day. If you pay attention and try to find them in your daily life, you can find many more than you imagine. Doing physics experiments is only a small part of all the science you can learn if you just look closely.


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