Newton’s Nightmare

Defy the laws of gravity and bend physics with the Newton’s Nightmare science project.

Drop one weight into the tube and, no surprise here, the weight drops to the ground with a thud. Go figure… it’s gravity at work! The second weight might bend your mind a little, though. Drop this weight into the aluminum tube and… wait… why didn’t it come out the bottom? Give it a second, that weight just takes a while longer, but figuring it out may be a bit tricky. That’s why we call it Newton’s Nightmare!

Experiment Materials

  • Aluminum pipe
  • Neodymium magnet
  • Brass block
  • Adult supervision

Experiment

*If you’d like the effect to be easier to see, drill some holes in the aluminum pipe.*

  1. Drop the brass block through the pipe.
  2. Now, drop the neodymium magnet through the pipe.
  • Notice the differences in speed between the two materials.
  • Try using different sizes and shapes of pipe.

How Does It Work?

The Newton’s Nightmare activity seems to bend the rules of gravity beyond fixing, but not if you know the secret.

Of course, you aren’t really mastering the dark arts to make the second weight take longer to drop. Instead, and you may have noticed this, you are mastering magnetism. The second weight is actually a magnet! When you drop the second weight into the aluminum tube, the magnet and tube react with each other, but only enough to slow the magnet’s decent.

The aluminum pipe doesn’t attract the magnet enough to stop its descent. Instead, the magnetism between the aluminum and neodymium causes the slow drop of the magnet. If you don’t explain the difference between the brass and neodymium, though, you’ll look like a brilliant magician to your audience!