Swinging Science: Creating mesmerizing pendulum art

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Today’s experiment is SO COOL! The beautiful art that this pendulum makes makes you want to keep creating fun art on the pavement.

This easy pendulum takes little time to set up but provides a lot of fun art to play with while also talking about science topics like gravity, motion, energy, and oscillation.

Are you all ready to unleash your inner artist with some science weaved in? Let’s do it!

How to make the Swinging Science Pendulum Art science experiment

Supplies you will need

For this experiment, you will need the following:

Before you start

Instructions

Here is how to do this experiment with your child:

Step 1: Prepare the colored salt

Start by adding salt to your sandwich bag(s). We chose to do four colors in total, so you’ll see I have four sandwich bags with some salt in each. I have a little less than 1 cup in each bag. The more salt you add, the more times you’ll be able to run the experiment.

Next, add about 4-5 drops of food coloring to each bag, one at a time. Close the sandwich bag, letting out as much air as you can before sealing it.

Once it’s sealed, work the bag with your fingers until all of the salt has changed to your desired color.

Four sandwich bags with between 2/3 and 1 cup of salt in each
Adding about 4-5 drops of food coloring per bag
Working the salt with my fingers until I reach the desired color
All four bags of salt are colored!

Step 2: Cut holes in the cup

Now, we’re going to prepare the cup. Using a hole punch (or just scissors, if you don’t have a hole punch), cut three holes along the rim of the cup.

Then, cut a hole in the bottom of the cup. We’re going to place a funnel inside the cup, so make the hole about as big as the bottom of the funnel.

Using a hole punch to cut holes along the rim
Three holes cut along the rim of the cup
Cutting a hole in the bottom of the cup, about the size of the bottom of our funnel

Step 3: Tie the string to the cup

Now we’re going to tie string to our three holes along the rim of the cup. The string length will be different for you than it was for me, since the chairs you use might be a different size.

Step 4: Make and release your pendulum!

Place two chairs across from one another and tape a broomstick across them.

Cut your string so your cup hangs a few inches from the ground and tie the string in a knot around the broomstick. Place a piece of tape on the knot so the string stays in one spot on the broomstick.

Place the funnel inside of the cup and ensure that the bottom of the funnel sticks out of the hole you created in the bottom of the cup.

Fill your cup with the first color of salt. Pull back on the cup and let it fly!

Our pendulum hanging from the broomstick
Final result of the salt pendulum art project!

The science behind the Swinging Science Pendulum Art experiment

This experiment teaches:

  • Basic physics concepts
  • Exploration
  • Creativity

How it works

The salt pendulum experiment demonstrates how gravity and forces of energy interact with a weighted pendulum.

In our experiment, we are suspending our plastic cup with salt in it (or the pendulum bob). When we pull it back, we are building up potential energy and when we let it go, that energy is converted to kinetic energy as the pendulum swings and the salt starts pouring.

The bob’s back-and-forth motion demonstrates oscillation. As it moves, the hole in the cup spills the salt out and creates a beautiful masterpiece below it!

Basic physics concepts

The Swinging Science experiment provides a fun way to introduce your child to fundamental physics concepts.

You can use this experiment to talk about topics like gravity, motion, and oscillation.

Explain that gravity is what pulls the cup of salt back down after we pull it back and let go (otherwise it wouldn’t come back down!).

The motion of the pendulum is from two forces called potential energy and kinetic energy. Potential energy is basically us pulling back the cup of salt right before letting it go, and that energy turns into kinetic energy when we let it go. This experiment of building a small catapult also helps explain potential and kinetic energy!

Finally, oscillation is the back-and-forth motion of our pendulum (cup of salt).

Exploration

Engaging in hands-on activities like making a salt pendulum encourages kids to explore and ask questions.

As they watch the pendulum swing and observe the changing patterns, they’re witnessing the results of their own actions. This is great because it helps them understand the physics behind the experiment a little more: if I pull the cup even farther back before letting it go, what happens? What happens if I make a bigger hole in the cup?

Exploration through observation and action is a great way to really engrain a lesson!

Creativity

Beyond the scientific concepts, the salt pendulum experiment is great for stretching those creative and artistic muscles.

We can experiment with different colors, patterns, and designs to see what different overall designs we can make with the pendulum.

This lesson bridges science and art, allowing them to explore and embrace their creative side.

More physics experiments to try out with your child

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