Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Best Physics Toys

I love toys, especially ones with a physics connection. Unfortunately, most toys that are advertised as science/physics toys seem to me to be disappointing. The best physics toys, in my opinion, are the ones that teach you a bit about physics without being all teachy about it.

Riding a bike, for example, is really a lesson in applied physics. You may or may not ever try to understand what's going on from a physicist's point of view, but anyone who has learned to ride has probably completed a few tough lessons in the physics school of hard knocks.

Time Magazine today published a list of the 100 greatest toys since 1923. I'm not sure what their criteria were, 'cause I skipped straight to the full list. But many of the toys seem like great ways to learn a bit about physics.

My favorite physics toy - the boomerang - is notably absent. But I can tell you, hours of practice learning to throw and catch one of those things taught me a lot about gyroscopic motion, which came in very handy in my early physics classes in college.

Of the toys on Time's list, these are the ones that I feel are the best physics toys, along with some of the topics they teach. I've listed them by the decade they were introduced, but you can still buy all of them today.


Yo-yo: angular momentum, Torque, friction, gyroscopic motion


Soap Bubble Solution: variational principles, optical interference

: Hook's law


Silly putty: non-Newtonian flow, elasticity

: aerodynamics, gyroscopic motion (but not as instructive as a boomerang)


Pogo stick: conservation of energy

Slip-n-slide: friction, momentum

Superball: elasticity, conservation of energy


Stretch Armstrong: non-Newtonian flow, elasticity


Neodymium Magnet Toys: magnetism


This is at best a partial list of only my favorite toys, and the lessons I took from them. Let us know if we've left off one of your favorites.

1 comment:

  1. I liked boomerang till the moment it hit me.. I was 5 years old and now I'm afraid of it.. I maybe funny.)