Science Projects With Slinkies

Explore physics with Slinkies.
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Although you may think of a Slinky as a toy, physics teachers use it as a go-to gadget to teach students the basics of forces and waves. If you are looking for a science project that involves a Slinky but don't know where to begin, here are some Slinky science projects to try out.

Centripetal Force Experiment

Use a Slinky to illustrate centripetal force. Stand still and hold the Slinky at one end. Twirl it around your head and body. Notice how the opposite end of the Slinky swings away from you. Experiment with the amount of energy needed to change the angle of the Slinky to the ground. You will need to rotate the Slinky faster in order to make it parallel to the ground.

Slinky Longitudinal Waves

Use a Slinky to visualize and understand how longitudinal waves, such as sound, move. Perform this experiment with a partner. Grasp one end of the Slinky while your partner grasps the other end, and then stretch the Slinky out between the two of you. Gather together several coils of the Slinky and release it. The gathered coils will press against one another and travel to the other end of the Slinky, rebound, and then travel back. This demonstrates how sound's longitudinal waves echo off of a solid surface.

Slinky Transverse Waves

Use a Slinky to illustrate how transverse waves work. Transverse waves (represented in nature as ocean waves) are waves that are comprised of particles that move in a direction that is perpendicular to the direction that the waves move. Grasp one end of a Slinky and have your partner grasp the other end. Stretch the Slinky horizontally across the floor. Pull a portion of the Slinky sideways about one foot, and then release the Slinky. The resulting wave will move perpendicular to the stretched Slinky.

Walking Slinky

Determine the angle needed to keep a Slinky walking down a slope with this simple experiment. Place a piece of plywood horizontally on a desk. Slowly increase the angle of the slope by slipping books or shims beneath one side of the plywood. Start the Slinky by placing both ends on the plywood and see if it “walks,” i.e., continues to place one coiled end over the other, down the plywood. Test at ever increasing angles. Record the angle that allows the Slinky to walk down the plywood and discuss the physics that causes the Slinky to walk.

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