Making a spinningtop from a metal paper clip

One of my favourite memories of my physics classes at university is of the day when the professor brought in metal paper clips for everybody — to make spinning tops!

When we were playing with the drawing spinning top recently, my mom brought back the paper clip one that I had made some 15 years ago! How is that for a well-organized collection of experimental materials? :-)

IMG_3387
Paper clip and paper clip spinning top

So here is what you do: You unfold the paper clip and turn it into a spinning top! Easy peasy. And if you are keen on all the physics, you can even calculate the angle between the spokes going out from the central axis! 53° or something close is what I remember (and it is confirmed by a quick google search, too). The trick is that the center of gravity has to lie on the rotating axis in the center of the wire that goes around.

IMG_3398
Spinning top made from paper clip

If you want to do this with your students, be nice and hand out the plastic-coated paper clips, they are usually easier to bend. But even with a very imperfect circle and bends that aren’t very sharp or precise, these spinning tops run surprisingly well!

Leave a Reply