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? :-)


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.


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!

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