A simple physics demonstration that shows why science still sometimes seems like magic

In this simple demonstration of how waves work, a Harvard instructor shows how a group of pendulums can move through a complicated dance together — due entirely to the way each pendulum oscillates at a different rate.


Here's the explanation provided by the Harvard online natural science demonstration series:

What it shows: Fifteen uncoupled simple pendulums of monotonically increasing lengths dance together to produce visual traveling waves, standing waves, beating, and random motion . . .

How it works: The period of one complete cycle of the dance is 60 seconds. The length of the longest pendulum has been adjusted so that it executes 51 oscillations in this 60 second period. The length of each successive shorter pendulum is carefully adjusted so that it executes one additional oscillation in this period. Thus, the 15th pendulum (shortest) undergoes 65 oscillations. When all 15 pendulums are started together, they quickly fall out of sync-their relative phases continuously change because of their different periods of oscillation. However, after 60 seconds they will all have executed an integral number of oscillations and be back in sync again at that instant, ready to repeat the dance.



The Playstation 2 screensaver uses this same effect only in a circle. It's almost hypnotic. I watched for several minutes when it caught my eye before I figured out exactly what the pattern was.